Denis Cheryshev and Aleksandr Golovin inspire five-star Russia

World Cup Group A, Luzhniki Stadium – Russia 5 (Gazinsky 12′, Cheryshev 43′ 90+2′, Dzyuba 71′, Golovin 90+4′) Saudi Arabia 0

The World Cup is here! Ah yes, and an aggressive first-half performance from Russia set the tone for a thumping win over an unfathomably miserable Saudi Arabia, whose propensity for giving the ball away unnecessarily and total lack of intensity, defensive discipline and attacking edge ultimately proved to be their undoing.

In the early stages, Russian pressure allowed the hosts to dominate possession, and on 12 minutes they took the lead. Saudi failed to clear a corner, Aleksandr Golovin crossed, and Iury Gazinski guided a header into the far corner.

When, nine minutes later, Alan Dzagoev twanged a hamstring, Saudi might have thought things were looking up, and they began to enjoy some of the ball. But then, on 43 minutes, another error inspired a Russian break, their defence disintegrated, and substitute Denis Cheryshev finished beautifully.

Russia sat back in the second half, but Saudi were still unable to create anything, and then on 71 minutes – just 89 seconds after coming on – Artem Dzyuba headed home the hosts’ third. Then, just as the game was drawing to a conclusion, Cheryshev waved the outside of his left boot to conjure a fourth goal, and just before full-time, Golovin’s glorious free-kick gave him the goal his performance deserved. The World Cup is here!

TALKING POINT

Can Russia keep it up? Russia have played miserably in the lead-up to the World Cup, but were excellent in the first half today, bright in attack and strong in winning the ball back. If they can do likewise against Egypt next week, they have an excellent chance of making the knockout stages.

Russia's midfielder Yuri Gazinskiy (L) celebrates scoring the opening goal with his teammates during the Russia 2018 World Cup Group A football match between Russia and Saudi Arabia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on June 14, 2018

Russia’s midfielder Yuri Gazinskiy (L) celebrates scoring the opening goal with his teammates during the Russia 2018 World Cup Group A football match between Russia and Saudi Arabia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on June 14, 2018Getty Images

MAN OF THE MATCH

Aleksandr Golovin (Russia) Though it feels harsh not to reward Cheryshev for two lovely finishes, it was Golovin who ran the game. Add to that two assists, involvement in a third goal and a fine one of his own, it is impossible to look elsewhere.

PLAYER RATINGS

Russia: Akinfeev 6, Fernandes 7, Kutepov 7, Igansevich 6, Zhirkov 6, Gazinskiy 6, Zobnin 7, Samedov 6, Golovin 9, Dzagoev 8, Smolov 6. Subs: Cheryshev 9, Dzyuba 8, Kuziaev 6.

Saudi Arabia: Al-Maiouf 6, Alburayk 5, Os.Hawsawi 5, Om.Hawsawi 5, Al-Shahrani 4, Otayf 4, Al-Dawsari 5, Al-Faraj 5, Al-Jassam 5, Al-Shehri 5, Al-Sahlawi 5. Subs: Hatan 6, Fahad 6, Muhannad 6.

KEY MOMENTS

12’ – GOAL! Russia 1-0 Saudi Arabia (Gazinski) The corner is cleared, but Zobain and Golovin make an angle for another cross, close to the corner of the box. It picks out Gazinski at the back post, and he shoves Taiseer before guiding a fine header into the far corner for his first international goal!

21’ – But here come Saudi, Yasser nashing down the left and crossing well into the middle. Alsahlawi is there with Ignashevic, who’s forced to head behind; the corner is rubbish, but Saudi pick up the pieces and Alsahlawi shoots hard as the ball drops and earns a further corner. Again, it’s rubbish, and Russia break … ONLY FOR DZAGOEV TO TWANG HIS HAMSTRING! AAARRRFGGGH! That’ll be his match and tournament, I’m afraid.

43’ – WHAT A GOAL! Russia 2-0 Saudi Arabia (Cheryshev) This a lovely goal! Saudi give it away again and Russia break again. When Golovin gets on the ball just outside the box, Chershev has hectares to his left. But the pass is short, so Cheryshev tips it up for himself, sending two defenders for a bag o’ chips, takes another touch, and slams a rising drive into the roof at the near post. Brilliantly done!

71’ – GOAL! Russia 3-0 Saudi Arabia (Dzuyba) Instant impact! Nice interplay down the right between Fernandes and Zobanin allowed Golovin to cross, and he picked out the new kid in the middle as the Saudi defence disintegrated, but even so, the backleaning header, across the keeper, was very nicely administered.

90+1’ – WHAT A GOAL! Russia 4-0 Saudi Arabia (Cheryshev) A long hump from Zhirkov picks out Dzyuba, from an offside position, nods down for Cheryshev to collect, breaking towards the box, left of centre. And what a finish he delivers, bent into the far top corner with the outside of his right foot like it’s nothing (it is not nothing). Brilliant!

90+4’ – GREAT GOAL! Russia 5-0 Saudi Arabia (Golovin) Though he’s on the far left of the box, Golovin decides that the free-kick is nevertheless one for a right-footer, curling around and over the wall with an assassin’s precision. I reckon Russia might win this one.

KEY STATS

Russia’s 5-0 win against Saudi Arabia is only the second opening World Cup game to be won by 5+ goals after Italy 7-1 USA in 1934.

No World Cup host nation has ever lost their opening game of the tournament (including both Japan and South Korea):

This is the first time in World Cup history that two substitutes have scored in the opening game of the tournament.

Yuri Gazinskiy is the first player to score the opening goal of the World Cup with a header since Cesar Sampaio for Brazil vs. Scotland in 1998.

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