Featuring the lowest ranked teams in the tournament, not much entertainment was expected in this opening World Cup match.
But two goals from Denis Cherushev and Yuri Gazinsky, Artem Dzyuba and Aleksandr Golovin strikes gave the largely partisan supporters inside Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium plenty to cheer.
The win — the biggest by a host nation in the opening game of a World Cup since Italy in 1934 — gives Russia precious three points in a tournament which is only going to get harder for Stanislav Cherchesov’s men with fixtures against Egypt and Uruguay still to come in Group A.
This week Putin had said the hosts — going into the tournament ranked 70th in the world, three places below Saudi Arabia, and without a victory in seven matches — would “fight until the end,” but, in this match at least, a poor Saudi Arabia proved to be obliging opponents as they gave the hosts freedom in possession and, crucially, the opposition box.
An estimated global television audience of three billion is expected to watch events unfold over the next few weeks as 32 countries compete in 64 games over 32 days.
Hosting an event which is being held across 11 cities and spread over 1,800 miles does not come cheaply, however, with around a reported $14 billion spent on bringing football’s showpiece event to the world’s largest country.
Much of the outlay has been on building or refitting 12 new stadiums, modernizing 20 railway stations, repairing hundreds of kilometers of roads and expanding airports.
But little attention will be paid on expenditure over the next few days as the host nation celebrates a sensational victory which will boost hopes of progressing to the knockout stages.