ST PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — Host nation Russia beat a poor New Zealand team 2-0 on Saturday to open the Confederations Cup with a win that was all but demanded by Vladimir Putin.
Russia’s president was in the $750 million new stadium in his native St Petersburg to see forward Fyodor Smolov’s 69th minute goal add to an own goal by New Zealand defender Michael Boxall in the 31st.
Putin this week demanded better results from the 63rd-ranked team to impress the Russian public.
“For us it is very important to make people in the country fall in love with the national team,” said Smolov, who scored into an unguarded goal to finish an attack he started with a surging run into the penalty area.
Putin had also asked the players to perform like warriors, though they hardly needed to be war-like in dispatching No 95 New Zealand, which seemed to find the world stage too big.
“The game didn’t go how we wanted to go,” New Zealand coach Anthony Hudson acknowledged. “We could have been more aggressive.”
Russia’s win eases the pressure on winning its second game, against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal in Moscow on Wednesday. The European champion opens its Group A programme today against Mexico in Kazan.
The Kiwis threatened only with back-to-back chances in the 78th minute: A powerful Ryan Thomas shot saved by Russia captain Igor Akinfeev and Tommy Smith’s header blocked on the line.
Russia’s opening goal had an ugly finish after two pretty pieces of individual skill once the All-Whites defence needlessly lost the ball.
A chest-high pass to Dmitry Poloz was deftly guided into the path of Denis Glushakov who chipped the ball over onrushing goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic. 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.