It was the eleventh minute of extra time in Russia’s tense victory over Spain when the unlikely stars of the show emerged: three Russia fans clad in traditional female headgear shown on national TV snacking on hotdogs in the stands.
The spectacle of the trio who were picked out by television cameras eating serenely as the country’s nerves frayed during the match against Spain propelled them to national fame.
The fans, two men and a woman, have become a viral Internet sensation and tributes have also spread offline thanks to artists such as Aleks Melentyev – who has depicted them in a graffiti mural on the side of a garage in south-east Moscow.
“They are so Russian! They had Spain flags on their cheeks but it was so obvious they were Russians, very colourful people. I liked them and I immediately decided to paint them,” said the 35-year-old from the Siberian city of Omsk.
The mural shows them wearing their kokoshniki, a traditional Russian headdress usually sported by women and girls.
Melentyev praised the TV cameraman who picked them out of the crowd on Sunday. “He had 10 seconds on them, but I spent two hours and (my work) is packed with emotions and positive feelings,” he told Reuters standing in front of the mural.
Expectations ahead of the World Cup were very low in Russia as the national team had endured months of bad form. But the country is now spellbound as their team has defied expectations, cruising to the quarter finals.
On Sunday, the hosts drew 1-1 with Spain, but clinched the match on penalties, winning a shootout 4-3.
“I hope that with these kinds of fans, we will win and go further,” Melentyev added.
Russia play Croatia in the quarter final on Saturday.