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14th Jun 2018

Football fans can’t believe Yuri Zhirkov is playing in the World Cup opener

'Feels like Zhirkov has been playing for Russia since USSR days'

Simon Lloyd

Finally, we’re up and running at the 2018 Fifa World Cup

Minutes after Robbie Williams showed his middle finger to a global audience of millions (billions?), tournament hosts Russia kicked off the tournament opener against Saudi Arabia in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium.

Let’s not kid ourselves, this was far from the most glamorous of fixtures to kick things off. Most watching were probably only doing so for the simple reason that it was the first World Cup game in four years.

Still, at least there were some familiar faces on the field of play. The sight of one in particular, Russia’s Yuri Zhirkov, seemed to come as something of a surprise for many of those watching.

Nearly a decade ago, Zhirkov joined Chelsea, spending a couple of years on the payroll at Stamford Bridge before returning to his homeland with Anzhi Makhachkala. He went on to play for Dynamo Moscow and since 2016, he’s been plying his trade at Zenit St Petersburg.

Set to turn 35 this summer, many who remember his time in English football were clearly shocked to see him still playing – especially at a World Cup.

Yuri Gazinskiy headed home the first goal of the game (and tournament) after 12 minutes. The hosts doubled their lead at the end of the half through Denis Cheryshev.

Russia’s game with Saudi Arabia will be the first in Group A. The second, which sees Mo Salah’s Egypt take on Uruguay takes place at 1pm on Friday. Morocco and Iran play the Group B opener later in the afternoon with the eagerly anticipated game between European champions Portugal and 2010 world champions Spain in the evening.

England, drawn in Group G, will play their first game of the tournament against Tunisia in Volgograd on Monday. Plenty of time to admire that ITV studio some more between now and then.