On the pitch, the Russian national team was expected to struggle to get beyond the group stages, while security threats, fears of racism and talk of homophobia dominated the pre-tournament coverage off it. Many fans had been put off attending the finals.
But just as their team shocked everyone by reaching the quarter-finals, defeating Spain along the way , the tournament is being heralded by many as one of the greatest World Cups in living memory.
Russia’s capital, Moscow, has staged 13 matches at this year’s World Cup – more than any other city.
Standard Sport’s Vaishali Bhardwaj has been based there throughout the duration of the tournament, and spoke with locals in the city to see how they felt the World Cup had helped change perceptions of Russia.
“I’ve actually seen with eye how peoples’ opinion of Russia has changed during this World Cup,” recalled one local, Maria.
“I never expected it to be so beautiful.”
Watch Vaishali’s video in full at the top of the page.