6 July 2018
Fans from Germany, France, Russia and Denmark play against each other in Red Square
The introduction of VAR during the World Cup has really added an extra dimension to games - and whether we like it or not, it has certainly brought about some heated discussion since I've been in Russia!
The group fixtures had finally come to an end leaving us with some fantastic games heading into the knockout stage with teams such as France preparing to meet Argentina, Portugal looking to beat Uruguay and the hosts, Russia, looking to defeat the World Champions from 2010.
VAR had been a big talking point in the tournament so far and fomer ref Pierluigi Collina, who is also the current chairman of FIFA's referees' committee, gave the media a briefing on some of the decisions so far. He also gave the press an opportunity to ask questions about the new system. It proved to be a fascinating insight into the way that decisions are made on the pitch and really how VAR works.
Spain arrived in Moscow to face host nation Russia and they were greeted to a good old fashioned thunderstorm, a real change from the glorious weather we have enjoyed so far here in the capital.
Filming training in the rain is never fun but luckily enough it stopped just long enough for me to get the 15 minutes in the can before the heavens opened again. The media centre was packed with journalists from all over the world looking to see if they could gain any clues as to the make up of each teams and how they might fare the next day. I always really enjoy the match day minus one training as there is something pretty cool about being in an empty stadium, watching the players make their final preparations and getting used to their environment before the madness of a match day begins.
Match day for the hosts had arrived and the city once again was electric with excitement, everywhere you turned Russia fans were gearing up to watch their team face one of the biggest European footballing super powers. The journey to the Luzhniki stadium is one of my favourites as we get the over ground train to the ground from our hotel and then walk up to the stadium with the fans in their thousands.
As you approach you can just see a sea of colour below you and the hairs on the back of your neck are already on end. There was again a carnival atmosphere and we asked fans who they now thought was the best player left in the tournament after the exit of Messi and Ronaldo the previous evening.
The match itself did not disappoint; Spain took the lead and then Russia equalised, you could feel the belief around the stadium and in the media centre too. Russia were on the brink of one of their greatest ever victories and to be at the stadium was incredible.
My colleague Mikey and I were watching the penalties from inside the media centre through the glass wall that looks out onto the pitch, as we had to leave very quickly after the game to interview fans. It was a really surreal moment because from behind the window we could see the wild celebrations as the crowd realised their team had done it, but we couldn't hear a sound because of the reinforced glass.
The scenes were incredible to watch and as we hurriedly raced outside the emotions just poured out of the fans who wanted to speak to us and tell the world how proud they were of their country. The World Cup had seen another giant fall, but the Spanish fans were pure class congratulating the Russians on their victory.
The fan festival in Red Square was a hub of excitement as former Portugal star Nuno Gomes would be appearing to sign autographs for supporters. He also spent a little time talking with us about his top tips for the tournament, whether he thought Cristiano should retire (although he was pretty non committal on that) and how he believed England had a great young team but believed it was too soon for them to win a World Cup.
Following the event in Red Square we had stumbled across La Casa de México where they would be screening the Brazil vs Mexico game to over 4,000 fans. If you were a Mexico fan without a ticket to the game this was a place to be.
Pre-match entertainment, local cuisine and a carnival atmosphere made this an incredible place to watch the game. We decided we would film the crowd and do a behind-the-scenes video on the Mexico supporters in Moscow. The room was packed out and the Mexico fans were joined by Colombians who had already arrived in Moscow to see their team play England the next day.
At half time the fans were treated to a Mariachi band band which had everyone on their feet dancing and singing. Two South American giants were vying for a quarter final spot and looking to take home the bragging rights. Unfortunately the result was not to be but the emotion of the fans was clear to see and we will miss the vibrancy that the Mexican fans brought to Russia from Day One of the tournament.
The big day had arrived and England finally arrived in Moscow to take on the Colombians, who had travelled in great numbers to support their team. The Colombians had been arriving and starting to populate the city for a couple of days and there was a hint already that not many England fans would be at the game at the stadium.
This was also a bit of a sad day because it would be the last game to played at the Spartak Stadium, which is located very close to our hotel. It is actually a fabulous stadium inside and out, and will remain one of my favourites, which is saying something as I have visited an awful lot in my career and also as a fan.
I woke up and felt pretty nervous from the get go; most people were optimistic that England could beat Colombia and we would have a very favourable route to the Semi-Finals. Not that I didn't think we could do it, but as an England and Derby County fan disappointemnt on the big stage is never far away, you could say I'm used to disappointment!
On our way to the stadium the four of us joked and laughed to keep the nerves at bay, but as we arrived we were greeted with a sea of bright yellow and not an England fan in sight. The media centre was full to the rafters and you couldn't even get a seat, it was four hours before kick-off and we ended up getting one desk space with no chair so we used the camera peli case to sit on, glamorous or what?!
It was great to see some friendly faces in the media centre as this was the first time en mass the full British media had descended on Moscow. WIF ambassador Jacqui Oatley was sat with her colleagues Glenn Hoddle and Ryan Giggs, who were all watching the Sweden v Switzerland match. Stan Collymore came over for a chat - he was like a bottle of pop excited with his massive England flag at the ready. International journalists were in awe of the commentating legend Martin Tyler, who was getting asked for more selfies that Giggsy.
The game started and England, as always, took us for an emotional rollercoaster that will live in the memory for years to come. Harry Kane has proved himself in this tournament as a real leader for the England team and his penalty showed his cool and calm demeanour, as you all know Colombia equalised late in the game and extra time was beckoning.
The atmposphere in the media centre was tense and the Colombian journalists had been very vocal throughout the game, penalties came and the volume level cranked up further. We were truly outnumbered in the media centre with just a small number of English journalists watching as we prepared our equipment to go out and speak with the fans. When Eric Dier stepped up to take the final penalty my colleague Mikey and I could barely watch, but as the ball hit the back of the net the celebrations began and we were jumping around celebrating, only to be surrounded by crews filming our pure elation of finally seeing an England team win a penalty shoot out.
We ran out of the stadium to speak with Three Lions fans, but again they were proving difficult to find and my main feeling was of disappointment that not more fans had experienced this momentous occasion. There has been a lot said about coming to Russia but I have found it to be a very friendly and hospitable place. I even left my phone in a taxi this week and the next customer, a Russian man, brought it all the way back to my hotel and wouldn't even let me pay for his taxi journey.
This trip has been amazing so far and I feel so lucky to have experienced my first World Cup here where the football has taken pride of place and boy, has it delivered on all fronts!
That is all from me for now, but can't wait to catch up with you all again soon.
From Russia with Love
* Louise Bawden, Duty Editor Omnisport (senior video journalist), is one of an exclusive band of women working for the media at the World Cup. We are delighted that Lou is sharing her experiences with Women in Football and providing a unique insight from behind-the-scenes in Russia.
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