Putin gets luck of the draw at World Cup opener
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.