Penalties at Saransk Airport with this Iranian kid – CR7 World Cup travel blog


What happens at Saransk Airport when a bouncing ball and a child’s screams wake you up from your nap? Well, you wake up and join the play.

It was the day after Portugal and Iran’s chaotic 1-1 draw sent the latter packing while setting up the reigning European champions for a 2018 FIFA World Cup Last 16 date with Luis Suarez’s Uruguay. I was incredibly tired following a sleepless night of coverage.

I checked out from the hostel before noon and found myself at the Saransk Airport within 20 minutes — a short ride which I spent contemplating the lovely green fields by both sides of the motorway. “195 RUB”, the Yandex driver showed me. This is around 3.14 USD or 15 GHS. Reasonably priced.

I settled at the airport’s ground floor cafe, had breakfast, and anticipatedly clocked out. Yes, this is what breakfast does to me. Thankfully, the Saransk Airport is relatively small in size and not too crowded. Finding empty chairs to take a nap is no problem.

Roughly 90 minutes later, I was woken up by the orders of a helpless dad begging his son not to transform the Saransk Airport into a stadium. But kids are kids and I’ve been there, done that.

When I was younger, my brother and I saw a pitch. Our parents saw the living room with all its fragile items. You can imagine the routine screams to have us stay quiet before we’d break anything.

Either way, let’s live a little and get the ball rolling!

The kid’s ball came to me. I stood up to notice he had a partner in crime — an adult Asian-looking guy wearing a Portugal jersey. We played cautiously and had fun, much to the pleasure of FIFA World Cup volunteers in the airport’s hall and to the child’s mother.

Accidentally, this energetic Iranian boy — named Arian — got knocked down by the big guy. He burst into tears. We comforted him and made sure he had sustained no head injury.

Ten minutes had not even gone by that the little man was already back on his feet, reaching for his ball and convincing me to play with him. Our light training session resumed. Then came the moment to practice penalties — that skill which Cristiano Ronaldo has mastered but is mocked for by haters whether he converts or misses them.

Arian got third time lucky, following the first two attempts showcased in the video below. His first kick went totally off target. His second nearly crossed the imaginary line created by the legs of the chairs behind me.

Teach them young!

As I’m writing this, I’m about to board the plane to Sochi where I’ll be attending Portugal’s FIFA World Cup Round of 16 clash against Uruguay. I’ll miss the friendly and enticing atmosphere that the many Iranian fans I came across in Saransk created, ahead of their unfortunate group stage exit at the expense of the Seleccao.

I may never see Arian again for the rest of my life face to face, but I would not be surprised if our brief encounter triggers in his little heart more appetite for the game of football. Perhaps, in future, he might look up to Cristiano Ronaldo as his inspiration and think of that moment when we sat side by side after our penalty practice, scrolled through my Samsung phone’s media files, and studied CR7’s powerful free-kick against Spain. And why not, represent the Iranian national team at the top level!

*Article’s featured image authorized by Arian’s mother for publication. 



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