ST PETERSBURG (Reuters) - Is there anything more unlucky than having to work when your country are playing in the World Cup quarter-finals?
The whole of Russia was captivated by the enthralling fare served up in Sochi on Saturday as the hosts bowed out after losing to Croatia on penalties — including the performers at Moscow’s Nikulin’s Circus, whose show clashed with kickoff.
As the entire nation lived every agonising second of their team’s defeat, the animal trainers at the circus some 1,600 km from where the match was taking place were following the action on makeshift screens balanced on top of tiger cages.
As the artists crowded around mobile phones while sets were being changed, jostling for space and tying themselves in knots as the drama unfolded, the big cats looked on disdainfully.
“We really want Russia to win,” circus artist Yelena Dragolyova said before the penalties. “We trust in Russia. It’s like a fairytale coming true finally, we trust in a miracle.”
Unfortunately for Russia fans the miracle never materialised in Sochi, even though the hosts managed a stunning extra-time equaliser to level at 2-2 and force the shootout.
Croatia held their nerve, with Ivan Rakitic converting the decisive spot-kick to set up a semi-final with England, as the gripping contest even distracted clown David Larible.
The Italian, whose country did not qualify for the World Cup, was spotted backstage watching with the rest of his troupe as the hosts suffered heartbreak, before rushing back into the spotlight to try and give the audience a reason to smile.
Reporting by Clair Watson in Moscow, writing by Simon Jennings; Editing by Ken Ferris