VLADIMIR Putin just had his Shrug Game.
Like Michael Jordan’s famous reaction after he hit six three-pointers in one half in the 1992 NBA Finals, the Russian president provided the most memorable moment of the opening game of the World Cup.
Seated next to FIFA president Gianni Infantino and Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud, Putin played up his surprise when his team scored the first of their five goals in a one-sided drubbing that was the perfect start to the tournament for the host nation.
Meme creators had a field day.
Earlier, one of the most controversial figures in world politics opened the tournament to rapturous applause from the 78,000-strong crowd inside Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium.
Getting the type of reaction Malcolm Turnbull can only dream of, Putin spoke of football’s importance in his country and the game’s ability to unite people of all races.
“This grand sporting event is taking place in Russia for the first time and we are truly happy,” he said. “In our country, football is not just a popular sport, not just the most beautiful sport – people here truly love it.”
“Love for football unites the entire world in one team, regardless of people’s language or ideology.”
With the red and white of the home team up against the green of the Saudis, it was like Christmas Day for Russia and its leader.
Russia ran through a team that qualified directly through Asia ahead of Australia like a bunch of schoolboys, scoring twice in the first half and three times in the second.
Having failed to win a game since October last year, the locals entered the tournament ranked 67th in the world. By perfect design their pressure-packed opener came against the only team ranked lower.
Midfielder Yuri Gazinsky settled the home nerves by holding his feet where his opponent couldn’t and sending an uncontested header into the back of the net.
But a blow came soon after as key creative force Alan Dzagoev was subbed out with a torn hamstring. It proved to be a blessing in disguise as his replacement, left-footed forward Denis Cheryshev, added the first of his two goals just before halftime as he watched two defenders slide past him in unison before crashing the ball into the roof of the goal.
After a header from fellow sub Artem Dzyuba made it 3-0, Man of the Match Cheryshev provided the Goal of the Match with a brilliantly-taken shot with the outside of his left boot that curled past hapless Saudi keeper Abdullah Almuaiouf.
Aleksandr Golovin, born in a small Siberian town of only 22,000 people, put the finishing touches on the demolition with a curling free kick that passed over the top of a pathetic Saudi attempt at a wall.
It was the biggest win by a host nation in the opening game of a World Cup in 84 years and drew another shrug from the fearless leader.
Putin is going to be pot-shotted for his stance on LGBT rights and the annexation of Crimea — and countless other things, you suspect — regularly through the tournament. But on this perfect night he could forget it all and lap up the adoration of his countrymen.
There were plenty of notable figures happy to pose for photographs with him too, including Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho, who became a meme of his own.