MOSCOW – Russian fans and politicians joined in an outpouring of jubilation on Thursday as the host nation unexpectedly routed Saudi Arabia 5-0 in the opening match of the World Cup.
State television showed throngs of Russians outside Moscow’s main stadium cheering with flags but also stunned by the victory as the hosts are the lowest FIFA ranked team in the tournament.
“We just didn’t expect it,” a Russia supporter dressed in a helmet and medieval garb told state TV.
“Thank you guys, thank you to the coach and thanks to (President Vladimir) Putin for this celebration! It’s great.”
“This today was the national team that we all want to see,” Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov was quoted as saying by TASS news agency.
“Putin is also in shock,” the TV Rain channel wrote on social media, posting a photograph of the Russian president watching the game from a box in the stands with his arms raised in surprise.
The public jubilation was welcome for the Russian government that on Thursday announced it would raise the retirement age for men and women, an unpopular decision it has shied away from taking for years, fearing popular discontent.
“This is really cool,” Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny, who was released from jail earlier in the day, wrote on social media.
“I had no doubts before the game, the question was only what the score would be,” a TV host said on a live talk show on Channel One to cheers from the studio.