COLUMBUS, Ohio – Former Buckeyes Chris and Parnell Hegngi recently traveled to Russia for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, attending several matches throughout group play of the world’s biggest sporting event. Chris Hegngi was the 2011 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and was selected in the MLS Supplemental Draft by Portland in 2012. He scored 18 career goals and 47 career points from 2009-12. Parnell was a two-year letterwinner from 2010-11. The two have started FirstTouch Africa, a news outlet that provides soccer fans with a unique view and experience of the game from the perspective of the continent. To visit their website, click here.
Here are some of their experiences from Russia below:
June 13, 2018 – Travel Day
The FIFA World Cup is a celebration of the world’s sport and a wonderful combination of different cultures and people. This summer my brother and I were fortunate enough to attend and immerse ourselves within the millions of other fans in Russia. Although the United States and Cameroon both failed to qualify, we are fans of football and will support the other African teams that did qualify.
After creating FirstTouch, our continued vision has been to package creative content in a unique way and we will have the opportunity to deliver a glimpse into the passion and excitement that the World Cup provides. We will have access to four of the five African teams playing in the tournament and since we are staying in Moscow, we will also be able to document the excitement from the capital of the host nation.
The most exciting moments for me personally will be witnessing world class players compete at the highest level for their countries. Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Robert Lewandowski, Eden Hazard, the list goes on and on and that doesn’t include the players that will make a statement and announce themselves as a talent to consider in the future.
Our trip from D.C to Moscow via Brussels was shared by fans from Mexico, France, and Colombia who will all be hoping to see their countries succeed very soon.
June 14, 2018 – Russia vs. Saudi Arabia
After what seemed like 100 selfies and videos, we were seated in the middle of a sea of Russian fans, with Saudi Arabian fans flanking us on either side. It was clear from the Opening Ceremony, to the National Anthem, to the kickoff that this was more than event to the Russians, it was a celebration. And boy was it a night to celebrate for The Golden Eagles, who after an inspirational speech from Putin, were on top of the Saudi Arabians as soon as the opening whistle sounded. It didn’t take long for them to break through, when Russia’s Top U-23 player Aleksandr Golovin crosses the ball into the opponent’s box finding the head of Yuri Gasinskiy for their first goal in the 12th minute. With no exaggeration, I can confidently say I have never seen a stadium erupt like this in my entire life. Some were screams of relief, having been able to grab an early lead after an edgy first 10 minutes, and some were shouts of surprise, as Russia had not been expected to do well in the tournament this summer. Some were of excitement and joy, as the game would go on to be a 5-0 victory for the Russians, a result not even Putin himself expected. And that’s the beauty of a celebration no? As my family and I embraced the Russian fans around us after each of the five goals, each unique moment represented an equal right at emotion for all of us experiencing the match. And that’s what a real celebration is. We may all be here for different reasons but above all we are here to celebrate and partake in the positivity that the World Cup exudes. Heading back to the hotel, everyone from the security guards, to the metro workers, to our hotel staff were ecstatic and proud for their nation’s performance. And in the name of celebration, we couldn’t have been happier for them.
June 16, 2018 – Iceland vs. Argentina
When it comes to athletes, I have a high level of respect for plenty, but only a couple would really make me feel some type of way if I met them in real life. The list goes Lionel Messi, Serena Williams, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (who I actually got to see him during the Mexico vs. Germany game, and lost it for a good 30 seconds).
Like many football fans, I’ve been in awe of Messi since he was 17-18, breaking onto the scene with a then, Ronaldinho-led Barcelona squad after a ridiculously dominant U-17 World Cup performance with Argentina. I’ve watched his squad number change from 30, to 19, to the eventual legendary 10 he now effortlessly dons today. I even have gotten to witness him live during a football trip of my own to Barcelona with The Ohio State University’s Men’s Soccer team in 2010. But June 16th 2018 would mark my first time seeing Messi in live action for Argentina. Admittedly, being a childhood Brazil fan, I more or less loathe Argentina. I am in no way a stranger to rooting against them, but am definitely unfamiliar with the notion of rooting for them.
I thought at breakfast. 2010 feels like so long ago, and I was too hype to see Messi boss the game in only a manner he knows how (more on this shortly). Who would his victims be you ask? Iceland. Iceland is definitely a nation that are just happy to have been a part of the tournament, but similar to South Kores, they were about to embark on a World Cup group stage performance from both players and fans that would earn them much deserved respect in the footballing world. Watching the team warm up, one thing was clear to me. Argentina will not have it easy. From the blow of the first whistle, everyone could see Iceland were not only up for the fight, they were prepared for it. Their tactics seemed to be relentless pressure supported by the tactical acumen and maturity to surround Lionel with multiple bodies in the midfield, while allowing him to find his teammates who were then placed in situations where they were being dared to be the decisive ones instead of Messi. Definitely a gamble, but a rewarding one if your team possesses the fitness and discipline to carry this out for 90 minutes.
Argentina struck early in the game through Sergio “Kun” Aguero in the 19th minute. Iceland didn’t panic or abandon their tactics and were rewarded with an equalizing goal in the 23rd, within the infamous “first five minutes” after a team scored a goal but is the most prone to mistakes due to a momentary lapse in focus. Iceland striker Finnbogason found himself in the right place and the right time in Argentina’s box to tuck in Iceland’s first ever World Cup goal at the expense of Messi and Co. As you all know by now, both teams went into the break level and Messi once again failed to convert a potential game-winning penalty kick, something he has done four out the last 7 times he has attempted a pk for club or country. The rest of the game would go on to be an all too similar narrative for Argentina during the Messi era as none of his teammates looked to be able to conjure up genuine scoring chances in a match that begged them to. Iceland ended with a tie, a much deserved one at that, and Argentina were already thrust on the back foot for the tournament.
June 17, 2018 – Mexico vs. Germany
The second game in Moscow for our viewing pleasure was Germany vs Mexico. The World Cup 2014 champions against CONCACAF’s best contender. As Americans abroad, we felt inspired to support Mexico regardless of my own personal history in Germany. What a decision that would turn out to be. It was quite possibly one of the most exhilarating moments of my life to be in that stadium and witness such a game. The emotional overload, however, began as you entered the Moscow public transit. Some of the newer trains had televisions in it so you could watch highlights or even the games themselves, and with each passing metro station that brought us closer to the stadium, we could encounter more and more fans from each country. German fans and Mexican fans singing and descending upon the stadium with excitement for the first game for each country at the tournament.
What made the game so thrilling was not just our incredible seats our father was able to acquire for all of us, but the ambiance of the atmosphere itself. I have yet to watch a game in Mexico, but due to the fact that the Mexican fans greatly outnumbered the German ones, the Luzhniki Stadium felt more like Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. The charm of the World Cup is that everyone puts aside political beliefs and any and all seemingly divisive emotions to celebrate the world’s game. Even with such a numerical advantage in the stands, I never felt any hostility. In fact, our seats were behind a group of Germans that came from a town one hour from Dortmund, the city I lived and played in. In front of them sat a group of Brazilians that were clearly there to support the Mexicans, but everyone was engaging in banter before the game.
The game itself was a thrilling encounter and a tactical masterclass from the Mexican coach and players. Germany was not immediately prepared to play at the tempo Mexico started the game with, and Lozano’s first-half goal led to an eruption in the stadium from the Mexican fans above us. It was quite simply the best 1-0 game I have ever watched and I cannot wait for the next game we will go to.