The mood was buoyant and politics was left on the touchline as thousands of Russian and foreign fans crammed into a Moscow fan zone to watch Thursday’s World Cup opener, erupting in cheers as Russia crushed Saudi Arabia 5-0.
Flag-waving supporters from all over the world chanted “Russia!” as the host team opened their campaign in style in the city’s Luzhniki stadium.
A crowd of some 10,000 people, including many families with young children, gathered in 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 ecstatic as their team pulled off a triumphant start to the championship.
“We have the best country in the world, I knew we would win. I can’t describe how happy and positive I feel right now,” said Yelena Krasnykh, a 21-year-old student.
“We’re really very glad. We didn’t expect this to be honest,” said 34-year-old Veronika Kripolapova.
“Victory is a great feeling,” said Pavel, a 42-year-old factory worker.
“Our team is not that bad, it’s just things in Russia are unpredictable,” he said.
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.
As Russia scored the final goal, hundreds of Russian and Peruvian fans danced together and chanted “Go Russia!”
“We were a bit worried that Russians would 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 the few Saudi nationals there 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.
“I have grown up loving football, my brothers and father love it too,” she said.
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.