Vladimir Putin craves sporting glory, and he got another taste of it in the opening match of the World Cup.
Russia ended a 16-year wait for victory in the tournament by routing Saudi Arabia 5-0 on Thursday in Group A, with the Russian president watching from the VIP box alongside FIFA president Gianni Infantino and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
It was the host nation's first World Cup win since 2002, and it raises the hope that Russia can get past the group stage for the first time since the Soviet era. Russia still faces a tough test against Egypt on June 19 and Uruguay six days later. With the five goals against the Saudis, a draw against either of its two remaining opponents could be enough.
Saudi Arabia's route to the knockout round is much more difficult. The Saudis, who last won a match at the World Cup in 1994, will face Uruguay on June 20 and then Egypt on June 25. Egypt and Uruguay play Friday in Yekaterinburg.
Yuri Gazinsky initially put Russia ahead with a header from Alexander Golovin's cross when the Saudis failed to clear a corner in the 12th minute. Gazinsky charged forward to meet the ball as Saudi player Taisir Al-Jassam stumbled, leaving a simple finish.
Substitute Denis Cheryshev soon scored the first of his two goals. He chipped the ball over two Saudi defenders in the 43rd minute and shot over goalkeeper Abdullah Al Muaiouf's right side to make it 2-0. He later chipped the ball in for Russia's fourth goal in stoppage time.
After Cheryshev's first goal, Artyom Dzyuba made an instant impact off the bench to make it 3-0 in the 71st with a header from Golovin's cross. Golovin added the fifth from a free kick.
In a World Cup first, the video assistant referee system was available for the match between the tournament's lowest-ranked teams, though it wasn't used for an official review.