Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov said he received a congratulatory call from President Vladimir Putin after the World Cup hosts pummelled Saudi Arabia 5-0 in the tournament’s opening match on Thursday.
Cherchesov’s team entered the match at Moscow’s 80,000-seat Luzhniki Stadium under intense pressure to put on a worthy performance.
Russia were without a win in more than eight months and ranked 70th in the world — the lowest of the 32 teams in the showpiece.
But the men in red appeared to gain confidence as the match progressed and the decibel level in the cavernous arena grew louder.
They scored twice in stoppage time and several Saudi players slumped to the ground after the final whistle.
Putin smiled several times as he watched the game in a VIP box with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Cherchesov said the Russian leader called him immediately after the game.
“The head of state called me and congratulated me, told me to keep playing the way we were, to keep going,” he told reporters.
Cherchesov faced a barrage of media criticism entering the month-long event.
But he denied being anxious or feeling the weight of an expectant nation on his shoulders.
“I am relaxed. Why should I be stressed?” Cherchesov asked. “This is just the start and not the end. Just a little more and the score could have been 1-1,” said the former national team goalkeeper.
“Today was simply proof that we are on the right track, but we have to turn the page and look at the next game. Our opponents will be getting stronger by the match.”
Russia next play Egypt on June 19 in Saint Petersburg and finish off Group A against two-time World Cup winners Uruguay in Samara on June 25.
But man of the match Denis Cheryshev, who scored two goals, admitted feeling a sense of relief that Russia were off to a dream start.
“I could never have dreamed of anything like this,” said the midfielder.