Hosts Rus­sia get World Cup off to their dream start

The National - News - - FRONT PAGE - THE NA­TIONAL Con­tin­ued on page 4

Rus­sia started their first World Cup game as hosts with a 5-0 win against Saudi Ara­bia on Thurs­day, cheered on by an in­ter­na­tional crowd.

Saudi Ara­bia’s Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man was among the more than 80,000 peo­ple watch­ing the match at the Luzh­niki Sta­dium in Moscow, seated be­side Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and Fifa pres­i­dent Gianni In­fantino.

Mr Putin had joked with Prince Sal­man ahead of the match, telling the crown prince that he has to cheer for the home team.

“You know that we have very warm feel­ings for you, but I think you will un­der­stand that I can­not wish suc­cess to your team,” Mr Putin said.

Prince Sal­man took the com­ment in stride, say­ing: “No mat­ter the out­come of to­day’s match, we will still be sat­is­fied be­cause we achieve suc­cess in dif­fer­ent spheres due to our joint work.”

The crown prince was pre­sented with a foot­ball to au­to­graph by the event mas­cot Zabi­vaka as he dis­em­barked from his plane, and duly obliged.

The re­sult gave Rus­sia its first World Cup fi­nals win since 2002 and ended a run of seven con­sec­u­tive de­feats for the na­tional side.

“We have the best coun­try in the world, I knew we would win. I can’t de­scribe how happy and pos­i­tive I feel right now,” Ye­lena Kras­nykh, a 21-year-old stu­dent, told Agence France-Presse.

“We’re re­ally very glad. We didn’t ex­pect this, to be hon­est,” said 34-year-old Veronika Kripo­lapova.

But the Rus­sian fans cheer­ing on their team where out­num­bered by flag-wav­ing sup­port­ers from all over the world, par­tic­u­larly South Amer­ica.

Sup­port­ers from Peru, Mex­ico and Colom­bia held com­pet­i­tive chant-offs, while cheer­ing for Rus­sia dur­ing the game. As Rus­sia scored the fi­nal goal, hun­dreds of Rus­sian and Peru­vian fans danced to­gether and chanted “Go Rus­sia!”

“We were a bit wor­ried that Rus­sians would be cold be­cause we South Amer­i­can peo­ple are very warm.

“But ev­ery­one has been so friendly,” said Gabriela Chang, 29, a vis­i­tor from Peru.

Pop star Rob­bie Wil­liams struck the only jar­ring note in his pre-match per­for­mance, mak­ing an ob­scene ges­ture at the cam­era as he sang his hit Rock DJ, but the open­ing game goal-fest, al­beit one-sided, raised hopes for many more ex­cite­ment dis­plays from the 32 teams vy­ing to make the fi­nal on July 15.

The next high­light for fans in the Mid­dle East, and par­tic­u­larly Egypt, is the other group A fix­ture on Fri­day, when Liver­pool star Mo­hamed Salah could make his World Cup de­but against Uruguay.

Salah’s par­tic­i­pa­tion was thrown into doubt after a shoul­der in­jury in the Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal against Real Madrid last month but Egyp­tian man­ager Hector Cu­per said on Thurs­day that the striker was al­most 100 per cent cer­tain to play.

“Mo is do­ing very well in­deed. He’s re­cov­ered very, very quickly – we’ve paid a lot of at­ten­tion to him,” the vet­eran coach told a news con­fer­ence be­fore the squad’s last train­ing ses­sion ahead of Fri­day’s match.

“I can al­most as­sure you 100 per cent that he will play, save un­fore­seen cir­cum­stances at the very last minute.”

If he does, it will be a spe­cial 26th birth­day for Salah as Egypt mark their first ap­pear­ance in a World Cup fi­nals in 28 years.

AP

Saudi Ara­bia’s Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man, left, Fifa pres­i­dent Gianni In­fantino, and Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, right, at the open­ing match

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