During the World Cup, Yahoo Sport’s man on the ground Pete Hall will provide a daily diary of the sights and sounds of Russia.
In his fifth entry, he encounter’s Panama’s famous coach and takes a journey to the mountains…
In Latin America, players are no stranger to a sensational nickname. Juan Sebastian Veron was known in his native Argentina as “The Little Witch”, while Javier Zanetti earned the “El Tractor” nickname for his relentless engine.
Yet here in Sochi, I have bore witness to one of the most remarkable such labels, even if slightly intimidating.
“El Bolillo” or “The Truncheon” is coaching a team for the third time at a World Cup, but never has he masterminded a story like Panama’s, having guided this Central American nation to their first World Cup.
So off I head to the stadium for the pre-match press conferences to hear from The Truncheon. I am not investigating the origins of the nickname, just not happening. He is a really big guy, so will just assume it is something to do with that.
Whenever journalists from less prominent footballing nations cover their countries in World Cups, they are often much more colourful than the rest of us.
In the press room, especially an English press room, there is a certain level of decorum expected. While there is no written dress code, in reality, if you wear a football team’s shirt, or a silly hat, then you’re chastised for eternity.
One Panamanian wasn’t singing from the same hymn sheet, as he proudly wore a (very tight) Panama shirt, and sported the kind of headwear a Ranchero would have been proud of.
Hernan Dario Gomez spoke well, and refused to admit his Panama side were there to make up the numbers. While not expecting victories, he talked of his side potentially being an “example” to other smaller nations. We will see what he means by that soon enough.
Then, for some investigative work, I made the one and a half hour journey up into the mountains to have a wander around the Olympic Village, where the majority of the 2014 spectacle took place.
The Sochi Olympics attracted much criticism, as I have mentioned before. Boris Nemstov, former Deputy Chairman of the Russian Government, assassinated in 2015, said that the road to Krasnaya Polyana the would have been cheaper if it were “paved with gold and caviar”, and on the bus up there, I could see why.
Ascending the steep ravine, the road is pretty much all bridge, before then winding up the mountain as if up to some kind of mountain rehab retreat.
Instead of being greeted with white coats and false promises, though, I encountered a thriving mountain community, complete with its own small Fan Zone, and thrilling cable car ride up to the actual village itself.
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Quiet in the off season, this is where Russia comes to ski, and with more Russians garnering wealth than ever before, coupled with the difficulties and costs of travelling abroad for Russians, the site of the 2014 Olympics is anything but a white elephant.
All the tourists are Russians, and a quick ask around suggests such – the World Cup will benefit most host cities a great deal, but won’t make much difference to Sochi – it thrives regardless.
I get back to the hotel in time to see Brazil labour to another draw, which makes me look forward to Belgium v Panama to come. I peaked far too soon with Spain v Portugal, but with shocks common place so far, Panama may even be in with a chance in the Fisht Olympic Stadium – here’s hoping.