Moscow (AFP) – The mood was buoyant and politics was left on the touchline as thousands of Russian and foreign fans turned out to watch Thursday’s World Cup opener between Russia and Saudi Arabia in a Moscow fan zone.
Flag-waving supporters from all over the world let out huge cheers and chanted “Russia!” as the host team scored twice in the first half in the city’s Luzhniki stadium.
A crowd of some 10,000 people, including many families with young children, were crammed into 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 rooting for their team to pull off a triumphant start to the championship.
“I was really worried but it turns out we’re not that bad. I’m sure we’ll win the game now. Good for them!” said Anton Irofeyev, 29, a shop manager.
“I keep hearing so much bad stuff about our team but somehow I knew things would be ok, especially against the Saudis,” said Igor Antonov, a 40-year-old school teacher.
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.
“We were a bit worried that Russians will 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.
“This is the first time we’re part of the World Cup in 36 years and we are so happy,” she said with Peru facing Denmark on Saturday.
Many supporters were visiting Russia for the first time.
One of those cheering for Saudi Arabia 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.
“Of course Saudi Arabia will win,” she confidently predicted ahead of the match, saying she grew up loving football, along with her father and brothers.
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.
“I totally didn’t expect Moscow to be so nice,” he added.
Michael Loffler, a 36-year-old German IT specialist who lives in Ukraine, was draped in both Russian and German flags.
“I came here to show that we (Europe and Russia) can be friends,” he said.