Northeast Florida soccer fans are cheering Russia’s best World Cup performance since the Soviet era.
WJCT News spoke to one fan, as the Russian national team gears up to play a rival that was once part of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).
Alex Podlast came to the U.S. with his parents from Ukraine around the fall of the Soviet Union in the late 80s. The USSR was officially dissolved in 1991 following the 1989 collapse of the Berlin Wall.
He continues to identify with Russian culture and today he’s preparing a Russian tartine — an open-faced smoked fish sandwich.
Podlast opened the Ribault, a French-style bakery, a few years ago in Five Points. He’s slowly introducing more and more Russian treats. But no pastry is sweeter for him than seeing the Russian soccer team advance to the World Cup’s next round.
“You know, they’re the boys,” he said. “Well, of course I [feel like I have to root for them], but more than anything, I want to see good games — interesting games without any controversial decisions by referees. You know, it’s always best to keep politics out of sports.”
Podlast said there’s plenty of time to discuss Russian election collusion or the country’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region — but not while the game is on the bakery’s big TV.
Russia is set to face off against Croatia Saturday afternoon at two. More information about the match is available here.