Before the kickoff of the Russian World Cup almost a month ago, soccer fans were told to attend the tournament at their own risk, Russia was portrayed as a malignant player on the world stage and Putin was something of a persona non grata.
Several weeks into the tournament and international soccer stars, pundits and the public who have been to Russia have largely had nothing but positive comments and experiences.
The tournament saw the rule book of soccer tradition ripped up too, with some of the favorites — Brazil, Germany, Spain and Argentina — being knocked out early on which made for compelling viewing.
France went on to win the World Cup on Sunday, beating Croatia in a goal-laden final that included an own goal, a pitch invasion and a controversial decision using the video assistant referee, or VAR. The dramatic final typified a tournament that has proved to be exciting, memorable and unpredictable.