Let’s just get this bit out of the way first, just in case he’s reading this. Vladimir Putin did not fix the World Cup.
Despite the immediate array of social media jokes claiming the Russian president was responsible for his country’s dramatic penalty shootout victory over Spain to reach the quarterfinal on Sunday, it wasn’t down to Putin. Instead it was a display of extreme resiliency and courage, sprinkled with a touch of fortune, that gave the host nation’s new favorite team a 4-3 triumph from the spot after things ended 1-1 following extra time.
Yet if Russia’s chief political tough guy had been either minded or capable of scheming the result of his choosing during soccer’s biggest tournament, this would have been it. An underdog Russia toppling one of the great teams of modern soccer, while screams rained down and patriotic chants roared around Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium?
No matter what happens next, Putin has won the World Cup.
His methods, policies and ideologies haven’t changed, and remain as unpalatable as ever to many, but that notwithstanding it is hard to see how things could have fared much better for Putin.
He is a man who likes victories, and beating the tournament favorite in a monumental upset of dramatic execution is a huge one, but he can also reel off a different list of triumphs since this event began.