The Russian city of Volgograd had been baking for days by the time Japanese fans started arriving for their team's 2018 World Cup game against Poland on June 28. Just next to the stadium was the site that draws most first-time visitors to the city, the Mamayev Kurgan. This hill was fiercely fought over in the Battle of Stalingrad that raged from 1942 to 1943. On top is a colossal statue depicting a sword-wielding Russian motherland calling her sons to battle.
"She is amazing," said Kei Matsuyama, a soccer fan from Tokyo who was wearing the bright yellow jersey of Japanese club Kashiwa Reysol. He had arrived in Moscow the previous day and taken an overnight train over 1,000 km south. "Maybe she will bring us good luck and we can stay in Russia longer."