Russia have thrashed a fairly abject Saudi Arabia side by five goals in the opening game of Russia 2018. In a match low on quality, most of the goals were a bit special. It’s a great start for the hosts, whose supporters were fearing the worst going into this game. Russia get three points on the board and lead group A.
Analysts say if this Russia team are as bad as many people say they are, then the Saudis must be truly atrocious. They can’t keep the ball, are completely toothless up front and have been unable to lay a glove on a Russian central defence with a combined age of over 70.
The FIFA 2018 World Cup kicked off in Moscow after an opening ceremony which saw Russian President Vladimir Putin and FIFA chief Gianni Infantino welcome fans to Russia and promise “football will conquer the world.”
Before the opening game between hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia, the 80,000 fans in attendance at Luzhniki Stadium were treated to a lively music and dance performance by UK pop star Robbie Williams.
Dimitry Cherchesov’s side have given themselves an excellent chance of qualifying from Group A, thanks to goals from Yuri Gazinskiy, Denis Cheryshev with two, Artem Dzyuba and Aleksandr Golovin. The hosts did lose Alan Dzagoev to a serious-looking injury, though.
Gazinskiy scored the opening goal in the 12th minute, leaping high to guide a cross from the left past Abdullah al-Mayouf and inside the left upright. There was a suspicion of a push on Gazinskiy’s marker but there was no indication of VAR being consulted.
Cheryshev then came on when Dzagoev went down clutching a hamstring. As half-time approached the substitute made it 2-0. With Russia on the counterattack and a three-on-two advantage, he picked the ball up on the inside-left channel from Fedor Smolov. Cheryshev cut inside and took a touch as two defenders dived in, selling themselves completely. With the goal at his mercy Cheryshev proceeded to blast the ball into the roof of the net from about 12 yards for his first goal for his country.
In the second half Artem Dzyuba scored in the 71st minute with a fine header shortly after coming on, Cheryshev floated the ball into the top corner with an insouciant swish of his left boot from the edge of the Saudi penalty area in the 90th minute and Aleksandr Golovin converted a free-kick in added time.
The other teams in the section start their campaigns on Friday, with Egypt taking on Uruguay in Ekaterinburg in the first kick-off of the day. Russia return to action on Tuesday when they take on Egypt in St Petersburg, before concluding their group-stage matches in Samara against Uruguay on Monday 25 June.