World Cup hosts Russia kicked off their Group A campaign in style with a 5-0 win over Saudi Arabia on Thursday.
No host team has lost a World Cup opening match and Russia kept up that tradition with goals from Yury Gazinsky (12), Denis Cheryshev (43, 90+1), Artem Dzyuba (71) and Aleksandr Golovin (90+3).
It leaves Stanislav Cherchesov’s men with confidence ahead of testing fixtures against Egypt and Uruguay as they aim to uphold the record of hosts at major international tournaments – 20 of 21 host teams have progressed from their group.
After an opening ceremony with Robbie Williams, it was Russia that heeded his words and entertained the home crowd.
Golovin recycled a half-cleared corner on 12 minutes and curled a clever ball towards the back post. There were three Russians waiting against Yasser Al-Shahrani, and Gazinskiy had the simple task of heading home for his first international goal.
Russia: Akinfeev (7), Fernandes (7), Kutepov (7), Ignashevich (7), Zhirkov (7), Gazinskiy (7), Zobnin (7), Samedov, (7) Golovin (8), Dzagoev (6), Smolov (6).
Subs: Cheryshev (8), Dzyuba (7)
Saudi Arabia: Al-Muaiouf (4), Al-Breik (5), Omar Hawsawi (3), Osama Hawsawi (3), Al-Shahrani (6), Al-Faraj (6), Otayf (5), Al-Jassim (5), Al-Shehri (4), Al-Dawsari (5), Al-Sahlawi (6)
Subs: Al Muwallad (5), Asiri (5), Bahbir (5)
Man of the match: Denis Cheryshev
Alan Dzagoev then hobbled off with what looked like a hamstring injury – but his replacement took his opportunity with both hands. Cheryshev showed sublime awareness just before the break to flick the ball over his marker, who slid in recklessly, and rifled home into the net.
Saudi Arabia looked devoid of belief the longer the match went on and Roman Zobnin conjured up Russia’s third goal.
Zobnin found space just outside the area and his delivery was headed home by another substitute Dzyuba, who had only been on the pitch 90 seconds.
Russia sensed the opportunity to boost their goal difference and scored two more in added time as the visitors wilted.
Cheryshev popped up with another moment of magic – this time with the outside of his left boot – while Golovin curled in a free-kick from 25 yards.
- Russia (5-0) recorded the second biggest victory ever by a host nation in their opening match at a World Cup tournament, after Italy vs USA in 1934 (7-1).
- Russia scored more than twice the amount of goals in this game (5) than they did in the entire 2014 World Cup finals over three games (2).
- Saudi Arabia have not won any of their last 11 games at the World Cup (W0 D2 L9). Their last win in the competition dates back to the group stages of the 1994 edition (1-0 vs Belgium).
- In this game, Sergei Ignashevich became the oldest player to ever appear in a World Cup match for Russia/USSR (38 years & 335 days old).
Man of the match: Denis Cheryshev
The Russian winger showed why he was once on the books of Real Madrid with a performance dripping in quality. After being called from the bench following Alan Dzagoev’s hamstring injury, the Villarreal man showed impeccable awareness and clinical finishing to fire Russia into a 2-0 lead before bending home a sumptuous second late on.
Cheryshev: “There are no words to express what I’m feeling right now. I’m happy we won and happy I could help my team,” said Cheryshev.
“I could never have dreamed of anything like this. I felt very happy when I knew I would be here in the squad but I never dreamed of anything like this.”
Saudi Arabia coach Juan Antonio Pizzi: “The opposing team really didn’t have to make a huge effort to win this game.
“We have now to forget this feeling of shame and start thinking about the next match.”
Elsewhere in Group A, Egypt take on Uruguay on Friday at 1pm. Up next for Russia is Egypt on June 19 at 7pm while Saudi Arabia need to avoid defeat against Uruguay on June 20 to keep their World Cup bid alive.
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