Dream comes true for hosts, in winning start to World Cup
It could not have gone better for Russia. If this year’s World Cup is, as they say, a chance to change long-held opinions and make an impression, then the hosts knocked it out of the park - at least for the very first day of the tournament.
Russian fans react to Yury Gazinsky's opening goal against Saudi Arabia. (Photo: Justin Ong)
For a long time Muscovites will remember how on June 14th they awoke to perfectly clear and cool conditions, then went to bed having witnessed their team’s perfect start to the tournament in a thumping 5-0 win over Saudi Arabia.
The week actually started off slow but by Wednesday night (June 13rd) droves of football fans from all 32 participating teams - and even others like Italy and China - were filling up the pebbled streets around the city’s storied Red Square.
Good vibes were in abundance with wefies, high-fives, hugs and kisses freely exchanged between rival camps; and come matchday the light, spirited mood was carried over by seas of supporters on the metro and at the Luzhniki Stadium venue.
Despite the throngs there was no chaos or disorder as smiling, effervescent volunteers guided spectators into queues. Inside, the party atmosphere was replete with singalongs to the pop star Robbie Williams’ greatest hits, though the Russians did wear slightly nervous looks about how their team would perform.
Then 12 minutes from the starting whistle, midfielder Yuri Gazinsky leapt high to head home the first goal of the 2018 World Cup, and the Russians smiled.
CONGRATULATORY CALL FROM PRESIDENT
Russia head coach Stanislav Cherchesov (left) salutes goal scorer Russia's Artyom Dzyuba during the World Cup Group A match between Russia and Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov said he received a congratulatory call from President Vladimir Putin after the World Cup hosts pummelled Saudi Arabia 5-0 in the tournament's opening match on Thursday.
Putin smiled several times as he watched the game in a VIP box with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Cherchesov said the Russian leader called him immediately after the game.
"The head of state called me and congratulated me, told me to keep playing the way we were, to keep going," he told reporters.
Cherchesov faced a barrage of media criticism entering the month-long event.
But he denied being anxious or feeling the weight of an expectant nation on his shoulders.
"I am relaxed. Why should I be stressed?" Cherchesov asked. "This is just the start and not the end. Just a little more and the score could have been 1-1," said the former national team goalkeeper.
"Today was simply proof that we are on the right track, but we have to turn the page and look at the next game. Our opponents will be getting stronger by the match."
Russia next play Egypt on June 19th in Saint Petersburg and finish off Group A against two-time World Cup winners Uruguay in Samara on June 25th.
But man of the match Denis Cheryshev, who scored two goals, admitted feeling a sense of relief that Russia were off to a dream start.
"I could never have dreamed of anything like this," said the midfielder./.