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There was no sense of foul play at hand as Russia made a gallant start to the 2018 FIFA World Cup and demolished a poor Saudi Arabia side 5-0 to begin the tournament by shooting to the top of Group A.
Substitute Denis Cheryshev scored in each half after Yuri Gazinskiy headed in Russia’s first, with Artem Dzyuba headed in their third to seal the win after 71 minutes. Aleksandar Golovin assisted two goals before netting a sweet free-kick in extra time to cap a confident first win.
Many might have expected a low-quality affair from the hosts and Saudi Arabia—ranked 70th and 67th by FIFA, respectively—but what unfolded was an entertaining exchange at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.
At least from the Russian point of view, that is. The Green Falcons had a difficult time in what was their first match at a World Cup finals since 2006, particularly in defence.
Here’s how the Group A standings look after Thursday’s sole World Cup fixture:
Group A Standings (Goal Difference)
1. Russia: 3 (+5)
2. Egypt: 0 (0)
3. Uruguay: 0 (0)
4. Saudi Arabia: 0 (-5)
Russia Let Loose Against Undercooked Saudi Arabia
An opening ceremony featuring the talents of Robbie Williams clearly got Russia in the right mood to dazzle on Thursday; either that or the tournament hosts were just lucky enough to draw that bad an opponent in their opener.
One would be tempted to side with the former, however, particularly after Golovin teed up Gazinskiy for the breakthrough with a deep, arcing cross from the left. Squawka highlighted the manner of the goal as a rare feat:
Squawka Football @Squawka
Yuri Gazinskiy is the first player to score the opening goal of the #WorldCup with a header since Cesar Sampaio for Brazil vs. Scotland in 1998. The hosts start the party. https://t.co/bCYGVgZhAn
Russian fans will have been disheartened to see midfield marvel Alan Dzagoev pull up with a hamstring injury after 24 minutes, although his replacement, Villarreal maestro Cheryshev, did his utmost to limit the blow.
At no point was Saudi Arabia’s defence more laughable than in failing to prevent Cheryshev’s first as they practically fell over in front of their man, who recorded a World Cup first of his own by finishing from close range:
1 – Denis Cheryshev is the first ever substitute to score in the opening match of a #WorldCup tournament. Super. #Russia2018 #RUSKSA
Saudi managed to keep the deficit to two goals for almost the first half-hour of the second half, but Golovin was again the architect as he angled another cross, this time from the right, and Dzyuba made it 3-0.
Juan Antonio Pizzi endeavoured to make changes and give his minnows a shot at redemption, but Saudi Arabia visibly tired and looked lacklustre in attempting to craft opportunities in the final third.
They were again punished for their lack of urgency when Cheryshev scooped an outside-the-boot finish in over goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayoof from the edge of the area, via the UEFA Europa League Twitter account:
UEFA Europa League @EuropaLeague
What. A. Goal. 👏👏👏 🇷🇺 Denis Cheryshev ⚽️⚽️ #UEL https://t.co/n5osogp1V1
Football writer Hesham Bilal-Hafiz was a big fan of the strike:
Hesham Bilal-Hafiz @hesham786
That Cheryshev goal is already going to be a Goal of the Tournament contender. Outside the boot nonchalantly into the top corner is something special. #worldcup
Al-Mayoof was perhaps slightly at fault for allowing Golovin to curl in a 94th-minute free-kick and not limit the fallout, although Russia had their tails up at this stage and deserved five.
Job done and then some as far as a World Cup host can be concerned, and Egypt and Uruguay have a tough act to follow when they resume the Group A action against one another on Friday.