Russia, Moscow: Host Russia put up a spectacular display in a 5-0 win over Saudi Arabia in the FIFA World Cup opener at the 81,000-seater Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, today.
With rising star Aleksandr Golovin at the heart of the home team’s best moves, the side in red immediately opened as the more enterprising team, ratcheting up the tempo against a Saudi Arabia that looked vulnerable at the back, though not without technical quality going forward.
The first goal came after 12 minutes from a neat header by unheralded 28-year-old Yuri Gazinsky, and came from a pinpoint cross from Golovin, the CSKA Moscow midfielder, who has been linked with a host of top English Premier League clubs.
Creative fulcrum Alan Dzagoev, who has often suffered misfortune around big tournaments had to go off after just 20 minutes with a suspected hamstring injury, to be replaced by Villareal’s Denis Cheryshev.
Cheryshev doubled Russia’s lead 20 minutes later with a skill that left two Saudi players on the ground, and an emphatic left-foot shot into the roof of the net.
Saudi Arabia attempted to rally in the second half, but Russia again looked the more penetrating team, with Golovin reprising his cross for another calm headed finish from substitute Artyom Dzyuba to secure the win, to the instant relief of embattled coach Stanislav Cherchesov.
Cheryshev turned a win into a thrashing with a stunning outside-of-the-foot shot in the dying moments, and Golovin once again stole the headlines with a trademark free kick with the last touch of the game.
The Saudis, who last won a match at the World Cup in 1994, failed to get a single shot on target. Saudi Arabia manager Juan Antonio Pizzi will hope not to repeat the fate of Carlos Alberto Parreira, fired by the same team after two matches in France 98.
The win for Russia is a big boost to its hopes of advancing, but it will still face a tough test against Egypt on June 19 and Uruguay six days later.
But with the five goals against the Saudis, a draw could be enough against either of its two remaining opponents.
Saudi Arabia’s route to the knockout round is much more difficult. The Saudis will face Uruguay on June 20 and then Egypt on June 25. Egypt and Uruguay play Friday in Yekaterinburg.
Russia’s first-ever World Cup will be held at 12 arenas across 11 cities with the final set to be played at Luzhniki on July 15.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman both wished success to the strongest team ahead of their nations meeting in the opening match of the World Cup in Moscow.
The two met in the Kremlin on Thursday, along with Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak and his Saudi counterpart Khalid al-Falih.
While the main goal of the meeting was to discuss a deal on crude oil production cuts, much focus was on the upcoming football game between the two national teams – the event bin Salman came to attend.
Following the official meeting, Putin and his Saudi guest proceeded to Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium to watch the opening game of the World Cup 2018.
Following a lavish opening ceremony attended by heads of state of 20 countries and featuring British singer Robbie Williams, Putin welcomed visiting fans and promised Russia would be a “hospitable and friendly” host.
In a World Cup first, the video assistant referee system was available for the match between the tournament’s lowest-ranked teams, though it wasn’t used.