World Cup off to a flyer in Rus­sia

Shanghai Daily - - SPORTS - SOC­CER (Agen­cies)

THE World Cup kicked off in Rus­sia yes­ter­day as the host na­tion took on Saudi Ara­bia in front of 80,000 peo­ple in Moscow af­ter Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin of­fi­cially de­clared the tour­na­ment open.

Rus­sia is spend­ing more than US$13 bil­lion on host­ing foot­ball’s show­piece, the most im­por­tant event in the coun­try since the 1980 Moscow Sum­mer Olympics.

Min­utes be­fore the game started at the Luzh­niki Sta­dium in Moscow, Putin said: “I con­grat­u­late all of you at the start of the most im­por­tant cham­pi­onship in the world.”

And to make mat­ters even bet­ter for the hosts, Iury Gazin­sky scored the first goal of the tour­na­ment to give Rus­sia a 1-0 lead against Saudi Ara­bia.

Gazin­sky headed into the net in the 12th minute, spark­ing scenes of delight from the home crowd.

Ear­lier, ex­cite­ment was steadily build­ing in Moscow, with thou­sands of Saudi fans in green and white ar­riv­ing in the city for the match.

Bri­tish pop star Robbie Williams per­formed at the open­ing cer­e­mony at the Luzh­niki, which will also host the fi­nal on July 15.

The World Cup fa­vorites en­ter the fray this week­end.

Brazil and its su­per­star Ney­mar are seek­ing a sixth global crown while Ger­many, which won its fourth World Cup in Brazil four years ago, will be de­ter­mined to draw level with the Brazil­ians.

France boasts pos­si­bly the most tal­ented squad while Lionel Messi is des­per­ate to make amends for Ar­gentina’s de­feat in the 2014 fi­nal.

But to­day Spain and Por­tu­gal meet for just the sec­ond time in the World Cup in one of the most in­trigu­ing games of the group stage. Spain is in chaos af­ter fir­ing its coach two days be­fore the match, and Por­tu­gal has been fend­ing off dis­trac­tions since star Cris­tiano Ron­aldo hinted at an up­com­ing an­nounce­ment about his fu­ture.

The Group B match in Sochi is at Fisht Olympic Sta­dium, the first World Cup game to be played at the venue.

The Span­ish soc­cer fed­er­a­tion fired coach Julen Lopetegui be­cause he ac­cepted a job to coach Real Madrid af­ter the tour­na­ment. Lopetegui was un­beaten in his 20 matches in charge of the na­tional team. Fer­nando Hierro, a for­mer Spain player who had been act­ing as the team’s sports direc­tor in Rus­sia, will lead the coun­try in his first ma­jor coach­ing job.

“I’ve been near a ball for 30 years,” Hierro said while dis­miss­ing his lack of coach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

Prior to the stun­ning fir­ing of Lopetegui, it had been Por­tu­gal try­ing to stay fo­cused on the match. Ron­aldo hinted af­ter the UEFA Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal he might leave Real, but said he wouldn’t re­veal his plans un­til he joined the na­tional team. It’s had the at­ten­tion on Ron­aldo in­stead of the match.

Por­tu­gal won the 2016 Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship, has 13 play­ers from that team in Rus­sia, and looked much like that win­ning squad in a 3-0 pre­sea­son vic­tory over Al­ge­ria.

Egypt is mak­ing its first World Cup ap­pear­ance in 28 years and will take on two-time cham­pion Uruguay to­day in Group A. Egypt may also start the old­est player in World Cup his­tory if 45-year-old goal­keeper Es­sam El Hadary gets in the game.

A Group B clash at St Peters­burg Sta­dium sees un­der­dogs Iran and Morocco lock horns.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.