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.
Host nation Russian Federation beat New Zealand 2-0 on the opening day of the Confederations Cup as they played in the tournament for the first time.
After having two early chances cleared off the line, they took the lead when Michael Boxall scored an own goal after Denis Glushakov had struck the post.
Russia's win certainly eased the pressure on winning its second game, against Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal in Moscow on Wednesday.
It was the ideal start for the Russians in a game played at the new Krestovsky Stadium, where President Vladimir Putin and Federation Internationale de Football Association chief Gianni Infantino both gave speeches before kick-off.
Smolov's goal was rightly ruled offside before Russian Federation took the lead on 31 minutes.
The hosts had a positive start to the tournament which serves as a test run of facilities ahead of the FIFA World Cup to be hosted them in 2018.
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Both teams were lined up on the pitch for an unusual pre-match protocol, looking up at the VIP boxes to hear from Russia's leader and FIFA President Gianni Infantino, before being able to complete their preparations.
"However, we were playing against a very strong Russian team".
Michael Boxall, left, and Tommy Smith are too late to prevent Russian Federation taking a lead in the first half.
Smolov had an effort ruled out for offside before the opening goal arrived just after the half-hour mark.
"We can take confidence that we played Mexico previous year and did very well (a 2-1 loss), we know that team well and we have an extra day to recover than them".
After New Zealand lost possession in a risky area, Poloz's neat touch released Glushakov, who clipped his finish over Marinovic and off the post before Boxall bundled the ball into his own net as he and Smith frantically tried to clear.
Russian Federation deserved its first-half lead after twice having shots stopped on the line in the opening 10 minutes. A three-player race to meet the rebound off a post saw the sliding Boxall's trailing right arm get the final touch in a bundle of bodies.
A Confederations Cup trophy, never mind a World Cup title, might be too much to ask even for Putin, But Saturday was a start.