Sunday, 25 June, 2017

Russian Federation delivers win for Putin to open Confederations Cup

Russia New Zealand primed for Confederations Cup opener in Saint Petersburg FRANCK FIFE AFP
Nathaniel Diaz | 18 June, 2017, 01:52

The four Russian cities that will host the eighth Confederations Cup - St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kazan and Sochi - were represented at the event.

Russian Federation breathed a sigh of relief on Saturday after its soccer team won the opening match of the Confederations Cup and the country demonstrated that one of its most problematic World Cup pitches was fit for worldwide matches.

Russian Federation went ahead in the first half of the Group A encounter through what was credited as an own goal from the New Zealand defender Michael Boxall, and Smolov wrapped up the victory in the 69th minute.

With three points, Russian Federation will next face Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal in Moscow on Wednesday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to attend the opening match, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters when asked if Putin was planning to visit the game. But weak defending allowed Russia's Fedor Smolov to slip past the New Zealand defence and tap in a low cross by team mate Alexander Samedov in the 69th minute.

This competition offers Russian Federation a chance to showcase its readiness to host the 2018 World Cup amidst off-field concerns surrounding hooliganism and security.

Both teams were lined up on the pitch for an unusual pre-match protocol, looking up at the VIP boxes to hear from Russia's leader and FIFA President Gianni Infantino, before being able to complete their preparations. "We knew it was going to be a hard game, which was against the host nation and the first one".

"Cristiano is totally focused in helping our team".

The All Whites survived until halftime but the largely one-sided nature of the match continued after the restart and in the 68th-minute a slick build-up resulted in an easy finish for striker Fedor Smolov at the back post when the Kiwi defence was again unable to clear a risky ball into the box.

Russia's next game comes up against European champions Portugal on Wednesday, while New Zealand will face Mexico also on Wednesday. A three-player race to meet the rebound off a post saw the sliding Boxall's trailing right arm get the final touch in a bundle of bodies.

Russia's victory showed it can win a big game at home, even if Putin is in the arena.

The FIFA Confederations Cup is viewed by experts as a rehearsal for the organizers, with only one year to go to the FIFA World Cup.

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