Russia 5-0 Saudi Arabia: Five-star hosts cruise to opening day victory

The Luzhniki Stadium hosted the first game ahead of the 32-day football showpiece, and fittingly it was the hosts Russia that began in the best possible fashion

Russia 5-0 Saudi Arabia: Five-star hosts cruise to opening day victory
(Photo: GettyImages/ Ryan Pierse)
Russia
5 0
Saudi Arabia
Russia: Akinfeev, Fernandes, Kutepov, Ignashevich, Zhirkov, Gazinskiy, Zobnin, Samedov, Golovinm Dzagoev (Cherysev, min 24), Smolov
Saudi Arabia: Al-Maiouf, Al-Breik, Omar Hawsawi, Osama Hawsawi, Al-Shahrani, Al-Faraj, Otayf, Al-Jassim, Al-Shehri, Al-Dawsari, Al-Sahlawi
SCORE: Gazinsky min. 12 Cheryshev min. 42 Dzyuba min. 71 Cheryshev min. 90+1 Golovin min. 90+4
REFEREE: Nestor Pitana (ARG)
INCIDENTS: The 2018 World Cup opener between hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Substitute Denis Cheryshev starred to help Russia mark their own World Cup with an opening day win following a five-star performance over Saudi Arabia

Cheryshev, who replaced the injured Alan Dzagoev on 24 minutes - scored in either half - adding an all-important second before half-time and then netting the fourth in stoppage time with a goal of the tournament contender. There was still room for a fifth when Aleksandr Golovin converted a stunning free-kick from 20-yards out.

The hosts never looked back once Yury Gazinsky headed them in front after just 12 minutes as another substitute in Artyom Dzyuba scored moments after coming on to kill Saudi off with a third midway through the second-half.

'Let Me Entertain You'

To the world’s surprise, it was in fact a high tempo start, and to suggest the inspiration came from anyone other than British singer Robbie Williams following his lightning 10-minute opening ceremony performance, is wrong.

It was left to Gazinsky who answered Robbie’s calls of ‘Let Me Entertain You’ when he headed home an in-swinging cross from Roman Zobnin to give the home crowd the lead they craved on 12 minutes.

Unfortunately, the initial entertaining start had provided false hope, but Saudi Arabia’s first opportunity on 21 minutes suggested they were capable of causing Russia problems.

Within the blink of an eye, left-back Yasir Al-Shahrani carried Saudi on a fierce counter-attack before cleverly picking out his only teammate in the box - Mohammad Al-Sahlawi – who headed past Ignor Akinfeev’s right post.

It looked like the Saudis were building in the tie when Al-Shahrani flicked Salman Al Faraj’s free-kick from wide right over the bar, but again, any hopes were short-lived.

That was as good as it got for The Green Falcons in the first-half, who were let down by their sloppiness in possession, as a clinical Russia doubled their advantage, three minutes from the interval.

One pass from Zobnin split open the Saudi defence. He picked Fydor Smolov on the edge of the box to provide a simple assist to the unmarked substitute Cheryshev, who virtually walked the ball into the net. 

Saudi briefly threaten but Russia kill the game off

Saudi gradually improved after the restart with two inviting opportunities in the same amount of minutes around the hour-mark.

The first chance followed when Alburayk’s cross flashed across goal with neither Al-Sahlawi and Taisir Al-Jassam able to get the vital touch.

Al-Jassam was in the thick of the action moments later when he delivered onto the head of Al Faraj but again the opportunity was squandered.

Russia were going quietly about their search for a third, and goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Muaiouf almost gifted the hosts it when he let Cherysev’s shot go but Osama Hawsawki – arguably Saudi’s best performer – managed to clear.

However, the hosts wouldn’t be denied for any longer as Dzyuba – straight off the bench – capitalised on more naive defending from Arabia as one cross from Zobnin ended in a third. 

There was nothing quiet about Russia as three minutes of stoppage time - brought them a further two goals and what could prove to be a crucial goal difference in their new quest to reach the knockout stage. 

Cheryshev struck an early contender for goal of the tournament when he used the outside of his foot to guide Dzyuba knock-down into the top corner. 

And still there was more for the home supporters to cheer about as Golovin rivalled Cheryshev's beauty with a fine free-kick - executing it perfectly over the wall to end Russia's seven-match winless streak in style and hand them a historic World Cup win.