Hosts Russia see off New Zealand in opener — FIFA Confederations Cup

"We have a very hard target at the Confederations Cup - to make the Russian people fall in love with the national team again", said the striker Fedor Smolov, who scored the second goal against New Zealand, in an interview with the Observer in Moscow a few days before the game.

ArraySt. Petersburg, June 18 (IANS) An official opening ceremony for the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in Russian Federation was held in front of packed spectators stands of the newly-built football stadium in the countrys second largest city of St Petersburg.

Prior to attending the match at the 68,000-capacity sold-out Krestovsky Stadium, neither Matt nor Fred had ever been at a "real football ground" of that size, noting that all the soccer stadiums in New Zealand are shared with rugby teams, or worse - converted from cricket pitches.

Midfielder Denis Glushakov flicked the ball over goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic in the 31st minute as New Zealand defenders rushed back to try to clear it off the line.

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Cherchesov's 3-5-2 formation proved too strong for New Zealand's limited team, and the passing and movement of the hosts may even have earned the admiration of Putin, who watched from the stands alongside Federation Internationale de Football Association president Gianni Infantino after delivering a stirring pre-match address.

Right-back Kip Colvey will be another player to watch for the Kiwi and his battle with Russia's left-back Yuri Zhirkov is expected to be one of the matchups to pay attention to.

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He still built a six-shot lead through 36 holes, despite hitting his tee shot into the ocean on the 18th hole and salvaging bogey. Casey flew the back of the green with his third shot and finding deep rough but could only move his ball some six inches.

Among the highlighted bets entering this contest sees SkyBet backing Russian Federation to win the game 2-0, while New Zealand is tipped to win 1-0.

But this was Putin's show.

Arriving by helicopter close to $750 million new stadium in his native St. Petersburg barely 20 minutes before kickoff, Putin was soon installed in the main grandstand and made a speech to launch the tournament.

Weeks in advance, the Flying Kiwis arranged to play an 8-a-side match at a professional football ground in St. Petersburg, and surprised themselves to beat a local team 3-0, taking the edge off their disappointment at the national team's 2-0 loss to Russian Federation.

"We achieved a very good result and at times a very good game". We played the match we have been planning for. "Now that's out of the way, and we know more than most teams what to expect from Mexico".

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 program on Sunday against Mexico in Kazan.

Federation Internationale de Football Association general secretary Fatma Samoura said on Friday that the estimated attendance for the tournament would be 65 percent, and that Russia's match against European champions Portugal had been sold out for weeks.

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In the only match played Saturday, Smolov took his chance to shine.

"It is the first step to the English Premier League now", Cherchesov said in English as he looked across to his also-smiling forward at the postgame news conference.

New Zealand is now without a win in 10 FIFA Confederations Cup matches and struggled to make an attacking impression.

A second seemed inevitable as Russian Federation remained firmly on the front foot.

When the goal came, it had an ugly finish after two pretty pieces of individual skill once the All-Whites defense needlessly lost the ball.

But a win is a win, and Russian Federation certainly needed one in front of President Putin after his insistence earlier this week that Stanislav Cherchesov's team had to raise their game as the World Cup looms on the horizon.

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If so, it could have to be ratified by up to 38 national and regional parliaments, with any of them effectively holding a veto. This date can be extended by agreement between all member states. "We are clear this is what is set out in Article 50".

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