Moscow: The mood was buoyant and politics was left on the touchline as thousands of Russian and foreign fans crammed into a Moscow fan zone to watch today’s World Cup opener, erupting in cheers as Russia crushed Saudi Arabia 5-0.
Flag-waving supporters from all over the world chanted ‘Russia!’ as the host team opened their campaign in style in the city’s Luzhniki stadium. A crowd of some 10,000 people, including many families with young children, gathered in a fanzone on a hill above the stadium with giant screens set up to watch the game.
Russian fans were less numerous than international ones, but were ecstatic as their team pulled off a triumphant start to the championship. “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,’ said Yelena Krasnykh, a 21-year-old student. “We’re really very glad. We didn’t expect this to be honest,” said another 34-year-old Veronika Kripolapova.
There was a distinct South American flavour to the fan zone and exuberant supporters from Peru, Mexico and Colombia held competitive chant-offs, whilst 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, a 29-year-old Peruvian fan.
Many supporters were visiting Russia for the first time. One of the few Saudi nationals there was Mona Mohammad, a 35-year-old who works for an oil company and was pushing her baby in a pram decorated with Saudi flags.
Tom Briskie, a 26-year-old Australian from Brisbane, admitted: “We were a bit worried before coming here because of all the media reports but it wasn’t enough to put us off.” Michael Loffler, a 36-year-old German IT specialist who lives in Ukraine, was draped in both Russian and German flags.