VOLGOGRAD, Russia (Reuters) - England and Tunisia players swatted away swarms of gnats that flew into their eyes and mouths during their opening World Cup game in Russia’s riverside city of Volgograd on Monday.
The area around Volgograd is known for its swamps and wide rivers, the perfect breeding ground for insects during the hot and dry summer in the Russian south.
Russian media said authorities used planes in the months before the game to spray the area around the stadium, which is next to the massive Volga river, with a special substance designed to kill off the bugs.
Authorities also tried to regulate the flow of water at a nearby hydro-electric dam which locals believe has a direct effect on the number of insects.
Players still had to cover themselves with bug spray before the game and at halftime, but that seemed to have little effect.
“There were a lot more than I first thought... some of them in your eyes, some of them in your mouth,” said England captain Harry Kane, who scored twice including a stoppage-time header to lead his side to a 2-1 victory.
His team mate Raheem Sterling looked particularly bothered by the tiny gnats circling his face before the start of the second half.
Tunisia’s Ferjani Sassi was also pestered by them before the took a penalty - but he still managed to convert it and equalise for the African side.
The coaches were not distracted by the insects.
“I did not feel the midges because I was so focused on the team, on the game,” Tunisia’s Nabil Maaloul said.
Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer and Andrew Osborn in Volgograd; Additional reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Ed Osmond