It's Sunday morning and I'm deep in the heart of a more 'traditional' part of Russia than the cosmopolitan capital city that I left behind 4 days ago. But before we got here to Rostov-on-Don, our team had first flown further south to Sochi by the Black Sea, and enjoyed 2 glorious days of unbroken sunshine and scorching temperatures...followed by the greatest football match I've ever had the privilege of commentating on.
Portugal v Spain had the lot, and then another few dollops of brilliance on top just to spoil us all that little bit more. From Ronaldo's early penalty to his last gasp free kick to draw Portugal back level at 3-3, the intensity rarely dropped and the quality was there throughout. I'm sure I said in commentary how fantastic the game was as I was describing it, but I don't think anyone could have emphasised too much to a radio audience about how brilliant a football match it was. More twists and turns than the frightening-looking rollercoaster that sits just outside the Fisht Stadium in the nearby Olympic Park. Isco & Iniesta imperious, Ronaldo wrestling his team back into it almost single-handed, De Gea's horrid moment just before half time - it's a game that Matt Holland and I will find hard pressed to beat on our journey around Russia for the next few weeks.
Adrian Durham, sat alongside us in our commentary position, was so carried away by what he'd seen, that he exclaimed at full time "If I could marry a football match, this one would be it!" and went on to deliver a 3-minute eulogy on Isco so full of love and passion for the man that I think Michael Carrick (his usual footballing squeeze) may well have been squeezed out in Adrian's affections. Which is saying something I can tell you. When we all arrived back at our hotel just a mile away from the stadium at around 12.30am local time, no one wanted to go to bed and instead various members of the world's broadcast media (including us) sat in the downstairs bar for over 2 hours dissecting what we'd seen. The poor lad working behind the bar couldn't keep up with the sheer volume of requests for beer coming his way, not helped by the slowest-pouring draught pump I've ever seen for lager...took about a minute to successfully pour a pint, and you could sense his frustration as the queues deepened in front of him and the clean glasses dwindled behind him with no pot-washer in sight.
Incredibly, some 4 hours later after we'd retired to bed only to have to rise early for our next flight, the same poor kid was still there pouring drinks at 6.50am! Whether those he was serving had pulled an all-nighter was unclear, but it was quite some shift he must have put in. Myself, Adrian & Matt were ready to go at our pre-arranged time of 7 o'clock - however Declan and Will were not as punctual and both needed an emergency call from Matt to get them out of their stinking pits and get weaving! Excuses were proffered about 'not hearing alarms' but Matt's fine system is in place as it was at Charlton training where Jason Euell was apparently a repeat offender in terms of tardiness. Declan & Will are going to be spectacularly out of pocket at this rate.
By some strange quirk of the rules, all internal flights in Russia HAVE to go to Moscow - there is no direct service from Sochi to Rostov, for example, despite the fact that both cities are significantly south of the capital. So we had to jet off to Moscow first thing in order to connect with a lunchtime service back down to Rostov. Adrian left us at Moscow to head back to the talkSPORT base there whilst the rest of us went through 2 airport security checks to make our gate for flight 2. There were concerns that our broadcast equipment box - a huge hulking black hardshell case that weighs even more than my drum hardware case unbelievably (!) - would sort of...go missing in the switcharound, but there was no need to flap as it emerged safe and sound at Rostov airport in mid-afternoon.
I mentioned at the start that Rostov is more 'traditional' in terms of what you might expect Russia to look like. It is much more reminiscent of the old Soviet days in this part of the country. A lot less skyscrapers and much more countryside, farmhouses and unremarkable structures whizzed past us as our taxi driver took us at breakneck speed for around 22 miles to our hotel. There were lots of Russian military vehicles in front of us on the potholed, single-carriageway main route from the airport which our driver was keen to pass on clear stretches, but we hadn't bargained for cars overtaking US as WE overtook the armoured personnel carriers! A goods truck 2 cars in front of us nearly went off the road a few minutes later for no apparent reason (probably phone/text related - they usually are these days), our driver cut across 4 lanes of traffic to make a left turn that he had no right to make not long after, and by the time we'd reached our hotel, I was grateful not to have to drive any further.
The hotel we're at is actually quite modern and quite at odds with its surroundings. I gather the Rostov Stadium that we visit later today for Brazil v Switzerland is more modern and imposing still. I had to be my own 'gym bully' this morning as Matt couldn't take that early a start on the running machine, and there was no chance of Declan or Will joining me, so instead we all met up for breakfast. I've been giving tea the swerve as I'd planned since my arrival and have been quaffing the orange juice in industrial quantities instead. What I wasn't aware of until I saw the labels at the breakfast buffet this morning is that the Russian word for juice is 'Cok'. We inserted our own childish jokes for the next 30 minutes. As I'm sure you can too. And the plate size, whilst not quite up to acceptable Partridge standards, was enough to plonk more than a morsel of food onto. I was then challenged to a table tennis tournament by Matt & Will as we'd spotted a table on our arrival. Despite my glorious record at Pollurian Hotel, Mullion during my youth, where I retained the U12 table tennis title for 3 straight summers uncontested, this was a harrowing experience at the hands of Holland and Dowie - particularly Holland, who went straight into competitive mode at the first serve and, frankly, walloped the pair of us into oblivion. Licking my wounds, I've retired to my room to type this and complete my prep for tonight's game. We've seen Ronaldo deliver in incredible fashion, whilst Messi's missed penalty cost Argentina 2 points yesterday - what will Neymar bring to this World Cup when the Selecao take their bow later? Can't wait - if it's half as good a game as Friday's, we're all in for a treat.