MOSCOW - Agence France-Presse
President Vladimir Putin takes part in a game at the All-Russian ice hockey festival among amateur teams at Megasport Arena in Moscow. AFP Photo
Celebrating his inauguration as Russian
president in typical macho style, Vladimir Putin scored a goal, made an assist and converted a penalty as his team clinched a last gasp victory in his new favourite sport of ice hockey.
In a game whose course reached sometimes miraculous proportions, Putin was watched over by his old friends, former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and German
ex-chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.
Fresh from beginning his historic third mandate as president just hours before, Putin came onto the ice at the gala game at Moscow's Megasport stadium late Tuesday to what state television described as a rapturous reception.
Putin, wearing number 11, came on in the final period with his team of Russian
amateurs somehow managing to keep pace with a squad of Russian
and Soviet legends, losing just 3:4.
Within minutes of his first appearance, the legends' defence seemed to magically vanish into thin air, allowing Putin through to deftly slot the puck into the back of the net and equalise.
Putin then made an assist for a fellow hockey lover, well known Russian
saxophonist Igor Butman, to make the score 5:4. The legends then equalised themselves.
The referee then decreed that the match be decided by penalties. And who should appear for the decisive shot? Putin flicked the puck past the mountainous goaltender -- who somehow avoided getting in the way of the softly-struck shot -- and his team had won.
The crowd roared, including Berlusconi, who as pro-Kremlin NTV television pointed out was accompanied by a "blond female translator".
The fairy-tale story line of the game recalled the legendary 1980 Winter Olympics "Miracle on Ice" match at Lake Placid when an amateur US
side defeated the dominant Red Machine of the USSR.
Putin, who proudly touts his prowess in tough-guy sports like judo, took up ice hockey only recently. He takes coaching from top ex-players and is believed to often play well after midnight.
He once compared his skills to a "cow on ice". Putin has said that when the first protests against his rule broke out in December, he was playing ice hockey.