Putin and Rus­sia get first win against Saudi Ara­bia


Vladimir Putin craves sport­ing glory, and he got another taste of it in the open­ing match of the World Cup. Rus­sia ended a 16-year wait for vic­tory in the tournament by rout­ing Saudi Ara­bia 5-0 Thurs­day in Group A, with the Rus­sian pres­i­dent watch­ing from the VIP box along­side FIFA pres­i­dent Gianni In­fantino and the Saudi crown prince. It was the host na­tion’s first World Cup win since 2002, and it raises the hope that Rus­sia can get past the group stage for the first time since the Soviet era. Yuri Gazin­sky ini­tially put Rus­sia ahead with a header from Alexan­der Golovin’s cross when the Saudis failed to clear a cor­ner in the 12th minute. Gazin­sky charged for­ward to meet the ball as Saudi player Taisir Al-Jas­sam stum­bled, leav­ing a sim­ple fin­ish. Putin and In­fantino smiled and shrugged as they sat next to Saudi Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man. Putin then reached over to shake the prince’s hand. Sub­sti­tute De­nis Ch­ery­shev soon scored the first of his two goals. He chipped the ball over two Saudi de­fend­ers in the 43rd minute and shot over goal­keeper Ab­dul­lah Al Muaiouf’s right side to make it 2-0. He later chipped the ball in for Rus­sia’s fourth goal in stop­page time. “I have never done any­thing like this,” Ch­ery­shev said. “I al­ready felt very happy when I knew I could come here with my squad, but I never, ever dreamed of some­thing like this.” Af­ter Ch­ery­shev’s first goal, Ar­tyom Dzyuba made an in­stant im­pact off the bench to make it 3-0 in the 71st with a header from Golovin’s cross. Golovin added the fifth from a free kick. Fol­low­ing a lav­ish open­ing cer­e­mony fea­tur­ing Bri­tish singer Rob­bie Wil­liams, Putin wel­comed vis­it­ing fans and promised Rus­sia would be a “hos­pitable and friendly” host. Putin has made no se­cret about his de­sire for suc­cess in in­ter­na­tional sports, es­pe­cially at the Olympics. But high points for Rus­sian ath­letes have been rare since the coun­try’s im­age was tar­nished by doping, with nu­mer­ous Olympic medals stripped for drug use. In a World Cup first, the video as­sis­tant ref­eree sys­tem was avail­able for the match be­tween the tournament’s low­est-ranked teams, though it wasn’t used for an of­fi­cial re­view. The Saudis, who last won a match at the World Cup in 1994, failed to get a sin­gle shot on tar­get.

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