Vladimir Putin could hardly have dreamed of a better introduction to “his” World Cup. While the opening match was not very sporting, the Russian president was finally able to witness an overwhelming and astonishing victory for his national team and set the stage for a tournament that looks set to be filled. surprises, and contradictions.
On paper, this clash between Russia and Saudi Arabia, the two lowest-ranked teams of the tournament, did not announce much of very impressive. The question was not so much who would win, but whether the Russians would avoid humiliation in front of their followers, after their recent failures.
The stadium was packed and the crowd, swollen after the speech of its president launching the festivities for the next four weeks. The Russian team, 70th in the world, wanted to silence the critics and avoid becoming the first host country to lose the opening match of a World Cup.
We could talk a long time about the Saudi defense, which certainly did not complicate the task of locals. But it is clear that this gain of 5-0, the men of Stanislav Tchertchessov did not steal. Russia won the match with decisive goals, many of which will undoubtedly find their place in the games of the week.
Here is a result that could prove decisive if Russia continues to do well in the tournament. In his group, Uruguay (14th) and Egypt (45th) seem out of reach, but it would be enough for a misstep either side for the Russian victory to tip the balance to the differential of goals. Do we ever know.
A symbolic image
The image that has undoubtedly the most circulated in this first day of the event does not show however a Russian goal, nor the colorful opening ceremony. It’s more like three men watching the match from the stands. On the one hand, the Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed ben Salman; on the other, President Vladimir Putin; and in the center, FIFA President Gianni Infantino.
This photograph alone expresses the beauty and paradoxes of soccer. Some will see evidence that the most popular sport in the world brings together two different countries for one game, while others will notice that the opening match has staged two authoritarian nations, including actions on the international scene are far from unanimous. One has only to think about the Russian occupation of Ukraine or the international coalition led by Saudi Arabia in Yemen.
These two controversial leaders have taken place alongside the representative of FIFA, an institution that is recovering somehow corruption scandals era Sepp Blatter. It was enough to fuel the cynicism of supporters on social networks.
“Opening ” ?
Always in the radius of contradictions, the Russian president took advantage of his pre-match speech to affirm that his country is “open” and “hospitable”. But as a New York Times correspondent rightly pointed out , some have clearly not received the memo.
In a radio interview broadcast on the eve of the opening match, Russia’s Tamara Pletnyova encouraged her compatriots not to have sex with strangers during the World Cup, especially if they are of a “race”. different “. She did not say exactly what she meant by talking about “race”, but we understand the message.
So that is a World Cup in Russia: an event that seems well oiled, but raises issues related to corruption, racism or respect for human rights.
On Thursday, Vladimir Putin had nothing to do with this kind of criticism. It was his day, his opening ceremony, his patriotic speech, the domination of his team in the field. Now, place to the real tournament.