Host nation Russia got off to a dream start in the 2018 World Cup as they thrashed Saudi Arabia 5-0 in their Group A opener at the Stadion Luzhniki on Thursday.
Russia 5 Saudi Arabia 0
Gazinsky (12′) heads home opener early on
Cheryshev (43′, 91′) scores two quality goals
Dzyuba (71′) punishes slack defending
Golovin (94′) nets with deft free-kick
Stanislav Cherchesov’s side never looked back after breaking the deadlock through Iury Gazinsky in the 12th minute. Denis Cheryshev stepped off the bench with a superb brace, having replaced the injured Alan Dzagoev on 24 minutes.
Fellow substitute Artem Dzyuba also got in on the act in the second half and Aleksandr Golovin sealed a record-breaking win on the opening day of the tournament with a stoppage-time free-kick.
Russia made a strong start as they looked to pounce on any stray passes made by Saudi Arabia, who weren’t afraid to attack.
Alan Dzagoev had the first sniff at goal on 12 minutes after Roman Zobnin surged forward from midfield and found him inside the box with a threaded pass, but the striker’s shot deflected wide of the left post off Omar Hawsawi.
Sbornaya took the lead from the resulting corner, however, as Gazinskiy headed home Golovin’s pin-point cross to the back post after the ball was recycled on the left.
Abdullah Al-Mayouf was forced to palm away two minutes later when Fedor Smolov looked to turn home Mario Fernandes’ cutback from the right byline, but the ball looped up into the air after another deflection.
Juan Antonio Pizzi’s side almost equalised in the 21st minute following a blistering counter-attack from Yaseer Al-Shahrani that was launched from inside his own area. The defender picked out Mohammed Al-Sahlawi, but Sergey Ignashevich intervened to clear the danger.
The Green Falcons kept playing their crisp passing game and Salem Al-Dawsari got under his first-time shot from 25 yards out on 28 minutes after good build-play on the right, while Al-Sahlawi sent a looping header well over the crossbar from free-kick on the right three minutes later.
However, the Russians took full advantage of another loose ball from the opposition on 43 minutes to score again. Cheryshev still had plenty to do when he collected Zobnin’s pass on the left, but he flicked the ball over two sliding defenders before rifling a shot high into the net from seven yards out.
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Cherchesov’s troops were good value for their 2-0 lead at the break and threatened a third goal on 52 minutes when the ball dropped for Aleksandr Samedov 22 yards out, but his rising strike sailed over the target.
The Saudis were presented with a decent chance from a deep cross on the right in the 56th minute, but the ball just eluded Al-Sahlawi and Taisir Al-Jassim in the middle.
Al-Mayouf was called into action again on 65 minutes, although Cheryshev’s header from Smolov’s cross on the left produced a routine save from the keeper, who could only parry Zobnin’s shot back into the danger area three minutes later, but Hawsawi was on hand to clear ahead of a lurking Smolov.
Saudi Arabia were caught napping at the back once more on 71 minutes as Golovin was given far too much space on the right to cross for Dzyuba, who directed a downward header into the bottom-right corner of the net.
Al-Dawsari tried his luck from distance moments later, but the winger’s swerving strike drifted past the right post, with Igor Akinfeev seemingly unconcerned.
Zobnin steered a header high and wide of the mark from a free-kick on the right in the closing stages, but Sbornaya sealed a comprehensive victory with two late goals.
The first was real quality as Cheryshev brought the ball under control outside the area on the left and beat Al-Mayouf with the outside of his boot from 17 yards out.
There was still time for Golovin to find the back of the net deep into stoppage time with a well-placed free-kick from 20 yards out.