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Sports

Russia win opening World Cup match against Saudi Arabia, 5-0

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2018-06-15

Russia won the opening World Cup match against Saudi Arabia 5-0 on Thursday in Moscow, bolstering the host country's hopes for a strong showing at home.

Iury Gazinsky scored after 12 minutes and Cheryshev added a second goal before the break after coming on as an injury replacement for Alan Dzagoev.

Artem Dzuyba netted a third before late efforts from Denis Cheryshev (who scored twice) and Aleksandr Golovin wrapped up Russia's first win since October to launch their Group A campaign in style.

Thousands of Russian and foreign fans had turned out to watch the World Cup opener in a Moscow fan zone. A crowd of some 10,000 people, including many families with young children, gathered on the hill above the stadium with giant screens set up to watch the game. Flag-waving supporters from all over the world let out huge cheers and chanted "Russia!" as the host team scored twice in the first half at the city's Luzhniki Stadium.

Russian fans were less numerous than international ones, but they were rooting for their team to pull off a triumphant start to the championship.

"I keep hearing so much bad stuff about our team but somehow I knew things would be OK, especially against the Saudis," said Igor Antonov, a 40-year-old school teacher.

There was a distinct South American flavour to the fan zone and exuberant supporters from Peru, Mexico and Colombia held competitive chant-offs, while cheering for Russia during the game.

"We were a bit worried that Russians will be cold because we South American people are very warm. But everyone has been so friendly," said Gabriela Chang, a 29-year-old Peruvian fan.

Tom Briskie, a 26-year-old Australian from Brisbane, admitted: "We were a bit worried before coming here because of all the media reports but it wasn't enough to put us off. I totally didn't expect Moscow to be so nice."

Michael Loffler, a 36-year-old German IT specialist who lives in Ukraine, was draped in both Russian and German flags.

"I came here to show that we (Europe and Russia) can be friends," he said.

Thomas Lowe reports from Moscow

There was some drama in the prelude to kick-off as Russia's behaviour from charges of racism and hooliganism to a foreign policy sharply at odds with the West was exposed and scrutinised.

But despite the apprehension, the centre of the capital yesterday had a “real festival atmosphere”, said FRANCE 24 correspondent Thomas Lowe.

“It’s simply a huge party here in Moscow,” said sports editor Kethevane Gorjestani, adding that the city’s main fan zone can welcome up to 25,000 people.

Britain and some eastern European states still haunted by the Soviet era tried to organise a diplomatic boycott over the poisoning in England of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy, and his daughter. While neither the British royal family nor British government members will attend, a wider boycott effort fizzled out. Russian organisers said they expected more than 20 heads of state to attend the opening match.

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"We would like to underscore the validity of the FIFA principle of sport being outside politics," Putin told a meeting Wednesday of football's governing body FIFA.

"Russia has always adhered to this principle," he added.

Putin is hoping the most watched event on the planet will help Russia capture the world's hearts and minds.

"Our goal is to make everyone, from football stars to ordinary fans, feel the good will and hospitality of our people ... so that they want to come back here again," he said.

Russia spent more than $13 billion (€11 billion) on its most important event since the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics.

The money will boost Putin's already sky-high prestige at home even further by giving many of the 11 host cities their first facelifts in generations.

The tournament is also a chance to project Russia as a global player that is accepted and respected even while being at odds with many in the West.

Russia is pulling it all off while bearing the brunt of international sanctions that began after it invaded and annexed Ukraine's Crimea in 2014.

Moscow's military backing of Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria and alleged meddling in the 2016 US election only deepened its worst rift with the West since the Cold War.

But Russia's troubles don’t end at geopolitics. The bloody beating English fans took from Russian thugs at Euro 2016 in France has plagued preparations as much as any diplomatic dispute.

Security services either locked up or checked in on hundreds of neo-Nazi hooligans to make sure they do nothing to tarnish Russia's image.

Russia refused to issue tickets to nearly 500 of its supporters with suspected football underworld ties, while England has forced over 1,000 known hooligans to hand in their passports.

Can Russia prevent hooliganism, racism and clashes at the World Cup?

Upsets and injuries

Brazil have won the title a record five times while defending champions Germany have won four and are determined to draw level with the Brazilians when the final is played at Luzhniki on July 15. Both teams enter the fray on Sunday.

The 21st World Cup received a first shock when 2010 winners Spain sacked coach Julen Lopetegui just two days before their opening game Friday against Portugal.

Brazil held its breath waiting for Neymar's right foot to heal from a March 3 operation, but the world's most expensive player has managed to score in his last two matches.

Less certain is Egypt's super-striker Mohamed Salah, who hurt his shoulder in Liverpool's Champions League loss to Real Madrid but is training again.

Argentina and Lionel Messi the attacking genius who has won everything but a World Cup were jolted by a scandal over their cancellation of a controversial friendly with Israel in Jerusalem.

Russia's own team had broken Russian and Soviet records by going winless in seven matches and dropping to 70th in the world, meaning no coach faced as much pressure as Stanislav Cherchesov as the competition got under way.

"We have to take all the criticism and turn it into something positive," Cherchesov said ahead of the match.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Date created : 2018-06-14

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