Day two at the Confederations Cup saw Cristiano Ronaldo take centre stage.
The Portugal superstar, who is thought to want out of Real Madrid due to accusations of tax fraud in Spain, played 90 minutes as the Euro 2016 champions were denied a winning start by Mexico’s Hector Moreno in a 2-2 draw.
Chile then got the better of Cameroon 2-0 thanks to late goals from Arturo Vidal and Eduardo Vargas.
Away from the on-field action, there was plenty going on around Russia and Omnisport’s team on the ground was on hand to get the best bits.
SO FAR, SO-CHI GOOD
Sochi hosts its first game of the Confederations Cup on Monday when an experimental squad representing world champions Germany take on Australia. While one of the main purposes of this tournament is to iron out many of the anticipated kinks that could blight a Russian World Cup, matches at the sleek, gleaming Fisht Stadium could offer an indication of what lies a little further down the line.
Part of a vast sporting complex, taking in the Olympic Village from Sochi 2014 and the Sochi Autodrom, home to Formula One’s Russian Grand Prix, the recently converted stadium and its surrounding high-end hotels and holiday apartments are a symbol of the vast investment that has been funnelled towards this part of the Black Sea coastline over the past decade.
Omnisport’s man in Sochi or, more accurately, the Adlersky City District of Greater Sochi, is a couple of miles down the coast to the north west of the stadium, where there is a more no-frills resort steeped in fairground games, street hustlers, techno and bad karaoke (a haunting version of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ from a suited gentleman aside).
After a 50-minute walk you arrive at a clinically modern sports city, with no discernible history or immediate prospect of top-flight football – no offence meant to third-tier minnows FC Sochi – and only the Caucasus mountains to remind you where you are in the world.
The host venues at Qatar 2022 will hold some similarities and it will be intriguing to see how fans mingle and create a pre-match atmosphere in such surroundings.
VALDERRAMA DROPS IN FOR THE PRESIDENT’S VISIT
Kazan Arena’s media centre was taken by surprise when FIFA president Gianni Infantino and Colombia great Carlos Valderrama entered unannounced.
Valderrama, an ambassador for world football’s governing body, had an animated discussion with Infantino before the latter was whisked away by his security staff after answering a handful of questions for Portuguese TV.
That wasn’t the case for Valderrama, though, who found time to patrol the desks, stop for photos and chat to anyone and everyone.
Mr Infantino is doubtless a busy man, but you can’t help but wonder if the sight of El Pibe’s luscious locks left him feeling a little overawed. He wouldn’t be the first.
CHI-CHI-CHI, LE-LE-LE, VIVA CHILE
Originality is scarce in the world of modern football chants.
Versions of songs by the White Stripes, Billy Ray Cyrus and the appalling Sloop John B now echo around football stadiums across Europe.
Let’s hope these atrocities never infiltrate Chilean football for fans of La Roja possess one of the finest, and simplest, football chants in world football.
It was being belted out around the Spartak Stadium prior to and during their Confederations Cup opener against Cameroon.
DON’T LOOK BACK IN ANGE
When it was suggested to Australia coach Ange Postecoglou that he was “irritated and prickly” at his pre-match news conference for Monday’s showdown with world champions Germany in Sochi, he did a very good impression of a man who was irritated and prickly while denying the whole thing.
“You must know me really well – how many times have you met me before?” the 51-year-old asked his inquisitor, who confirmed this was a first encounter.
“Maybe that’s just my demeanour. There’s your answer,” Postecoglou huffed.
This irritation – or magnified demeanour – stemmed from questions over any advantage Australia might derive from Germany naming a weakened squad and whether this tournament, and pivotal World Cup qualification clash with Japan in August, will define his tenure.
Australia might have a younger starting line-up than Joachim Low’s men at Fisht Stadium according to Postecoglou, who insists his legacy with the 2015 Asian Cup winners is not up for debate.
“I think my tenure has already been defined so I don’t care about it,” he said.
“We keep doing what we’re doing and we got a handsome reward [the Asian Cup], it wasn’t given to us. People are easily dismissing that. They’ll dismiss anything else so I don’t really care.”
Glad we’ve cleared that up.
NIKA PREDICTS UN-BEAR-ABLE START FOR AUSTRALIA
On Saturday we brought you the less-than-convincing predicting skills of Achilles the deaf cat.
Achilles’ pondering and wishy-washy technique means the flimsy feline is being removed as Omnisport’s prophet of choice.
So, step forward, Nika the polar bear. Orphan Nika lives in a zoo 100 kilometres from Moscow and has developed a strong love of football (according to the blurb anyway).
She also possesses “special talents” according to her keeper Alexander Igorov. Igorov said: “We realized that Nika has some special talents. She senses in advance if people will come to visit. She has the gift of seeing the future and hides or shows interest when she wants something.
“She plays really well with footballs and swims with them in the pool. She loves them; so much that she sometimes uses them as her pillow when she sleeps.”
Nika’s predictions for Monday’s game between Australia and Germany? A win for Joachim Low’s world champions.