Putin gets luck of the draw at World Cup opener

The Record (Troy, NY) - - SPORTS - By John Le­ices­ter AP Sports Columnist

MOSCOW » When Yuri Gazin­sky headed in the first goal of the 2018 World Cup, giv­ing host Rus­sia early joy in what de­vel­oped into a 5- 0 thump­ing of Saudi Ara­bia, Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin leaned across to Saudi Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man with his hand out­stretched.

No hard feel­ings, the pres­i­den­tial ges­ture said.

Sand­wiched in the mid­dle, Gianni In­fantino, the head of tournament or­ga­nizer FIFA, looked on ap­prov­ingly.

Foot­ball, bring­ing the world together.

Or so Putin and FIFA would have us be­lieve.

The foot­ball mis­match of the open­ing game Thurs­day, with a Saudi team so bad it made Rus­sia look bet­ter than it is, surely mat­tered less to Putin than the broader mes­sage: For the next month to the final on July 15, Rus­sia is putting its best foot for­ward and show­ing a fair-play, gen­tler side of it­self to the world.

For­get that Cold War­like chill in the air in the months that led up to the mo­ment when ref­eree Nestor Pi­tana of Ar­gentina

blew the open­ing whis­tle. For 90 min­utes, it was old­school foot­ball, with long balls hoofed up field and a short­age of daz­zling skill. That didn’t re­ally mat­ter. “Do­bro pozhalo­vat” — wel­come in Rus­sian — is, for now, the name of the game.

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