FIFA World Cup 2018: Russia euphoric after opening day high

Updated on Jun 15, 2018 10:39 PM IST

Russia showed nerves of steel and ruthless finishing in thumping Saudi Arabia 5-0 in the opening match of FIFA World Cup 2018 before an anxious crowd of nearly 80,000 in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on Friday

Russian fans celebrate after the hosts defeated Saudi Arabia in the opening match of the FIFA World Cup 201(AFP)
Russian fans celebrate after the hosts defeated Saudi Arabia in the opening match of the FIFA World Cup 201(AFP)
Hindustan Times, Moscow | ByBhargab Sarmah

On Thursday evening, there was a different buzz on trains leaving the Sportivnaya metro station near the Luzhniki Stadium. As fans left the stadium after Russia’s dream FIFA World Cup 2018 start – a thumping 5-0 win over Saudi Arabia – trains to the city centre were unusually full.

Most of these fans were off to celebrate Russia’s win. Even four hours after the game, once it was well past midnight, the stretch between Red Square and Lubyanka Square was teeming with people carrying Russian flags and singing chants in praise of the national team. And it wasn’t difficult to make out that most had imbibed stuff stronger than tea.

READ | Saudi Arabia to hold players ‘accountable’ for World Cup drubbing against Russia

They were joined in their celebrations by fans of Colombia and Mexico, quite a few of whom were in town on Thursday evening.

Prior to the game, Russia were expected to struggle and were billed for group stage elimination. The performance against Saudi Arabia, however, has led many to believe that great things are possible from this campaign.

Putin’s call

In the middle of his press conference after the game, Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov rushed out of the room to take a phone call.

Such behaviour would be considered discourteous in normal circumstances. But then, not many in Russia would turn down a call from president Vladimir Putin.

“He (Putin) asked me to share his thanks with the team for the performance we put on today and he asked us to continue playing like this,” said Cherchesov.

Cherchesov had dismissed talk of him being under pressure prior to Thursday’s game and after the win, he said there had been no change in his thought process despite the scale of victory. The coach said he would remain calm and relaxed irrespective of what is said about his team.

READ | FIFA World Cup 2018: Who is Jose Gimenez, Uruguay’s goal-scorer against Egypt

“We believe in what we are doing. It is pleasant to work with the players. Every coach depends on players. That is why I am relaxed. Why should I be stressed?”

The win over Saudi Arabia was the perfect performance Russia had hoped for but injury to influential attacking midfielder Alan Dzagoev has left a bitter aftertaste among the supporters.

An MRI is expected to reveal the extent of injury suffered by Dzagoev. It didn’t matter much on Thursday as his replacement Denis Cheryshev scored two goals and teamed up with Aleksandr Golovin to set up the victory.

“We understand clearly what we gathered here. The World Cup is just beginning,” said Cheryshev following the brace. “But we shouldn’t stop here. In any moment when you relax you can be kicked out.”

Ceremony gets play in papers

While the result led to huge celebrations in the streets of Moscow, some of Russia’s biggest dailies wrote about the game on the back pages. Most of the front pages were on the opening ceremony or the significance of the World Cup.

READ | FIFA World Cup 2018: France eye winning start against Australia

The popular daily Izvestia had a picture of Putin addressing the crowd, accompanied by the headline “From Russia, football conquers the whole world.”

Trud went with the front page headline ‘This happens only a few times in a lifetime’ with a comment piece describing the World Cup as a celebration of humanity. And the government-owned Rossiyskaya Gazeta headlined their match report ‘5+!’.

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