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Russia prove doubters wrong -- for now

AFP  |  Moscow 

have proved the doubters wrong -- for the moment.

hosts showed nerves of and ruthless finishing in thumping 5-0 in the tournament's opening match before an anxious crowd of nearly 80,000 in Moscow's Stadium yesterday.

The emphatic result transformed the men in red from villains to heroes and gave Russians a rare sporting reason to rejoice.

Everyone from senators and regional leaders to himself congratulated for Russia's biggest victory in post-Soviet history.

It came at Stadium -- the crucible of both Russian and Soviet sport -- with the weight of an expectant but sceptical nation on their shoulders.

"The called me and congratulated me," Russia's said matter-of-factly after the match.

Putin "told me to keep playing the way we were, to keep going."

"Give me five!" Moscow's Sport Express newspaper exclaimed in a front-page headline. "Russia, we love you!" It was not always like this for Cherchesov and his charges.

The team entered the tournament without tasting victory in more than eight months. They had registered just one shot on target in their last two warmups.

Four of Russia's defenders and a starting forward had been ruled out for the tournament with

One website dubbed the matchup between the 70th-ranked Russians and the 67th-ranked Saudis -- the two worst teams in the tournament -- as "Bad vs. Worse".

- 'We're not so bad' -


Cherchesov kept fiddling around with formations and few could tell which players he would start once British pop star finished belting out his opening ceremony set. It all worked out in the end. But it will all get that much harder from here on out.

"It could have easily been 1-1 if we were not careful," said Cherchesov.

"And our opponents will be getting stronger by the match."

next play on June 19 in Saint Petersburg and finish off Group A against two-time World Cup winners in on June 25.

They are still not guaranteed the top-two finish that would ensure they do not join as only the second World Cup host nation to fail to qualify from their group.

And the match got that much bigger with the return to fitness of ahead of the Pharaohs' own clash on Friday with

Salah has not played since injuring his shoulder in Liverpool's final loss to real Madrid.

If fit, he is precisely the type of clinical finisher to give Russia's hobbled defence nightmares.

And Cherchesov's problems in the back were already so dire that he had to ask 38-year-old to come out of international retirement for one last curtain call.

Ignashevich started on Thursday but rarely had to touch the ball against the Saudis.

He and can expect to be far busier with Salah leading the Egyptian charge.

Yet Russians are still riding a wave of jubilation and is off to a scintillating start.

"I was really worried, but it turns out we are not that bad!" said, summing up the mood of many Russian fans.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Fri, June 15 2018. 09:55 IST