Coming into the 2018 World Cup, all nine hosts who played in the opener haven’t lost. In fact, only England (1966), Mexico (1970) and South Africa (2010) would go on to draw their respective openers. On Thursday Russia made it 10, surging past Saudi Arabia convincingly to take a great first step in their quest to get out of what promises to be an interesting group alongside Egypt and Uruguay.
For the first 10 minutes or so, Saudi Arabia seemed to have the pace to make up for their lack of overall skill. But eventually, mental errors set in. And they didn’t go away for the duration of the first half.
12 minutes on, Yury Gazinsky headed in the opener off a beautiful cross from Aleksandr Golovin. And while Saudi Arabia would continue to dominate possession, it didn’t matter. Particularly in the middle of the pitch. At every turn, Russia would pounce on a Saudi mistake. But their dominant performance comes with a hint of bitterness. 24 minutes on, star man Alan Dzagoev would collapse while clutching the back of his leg. He’s definitely dealing with a hamstring issue, but you hope it’s just a cramp. Without him, Russia will have a tough time advancing past Uruguay — and probably Egypt as well.
And yet, Russia would persist. 19 minutes after Dzagoev’s departure, his replacement — Denis Cheryshev — would finish off a counter attack with a lovely piece of skill to double Russia’s lead. Conceding just before halftime is bad enough. But going down 2-0 at half with your backs already against the wall? Forget about it.
— beIN SPORTS (@beINSPORTS) June 14, 2018
Nothing you can do about that. Well, other than not continuously turn the ball over. But anyway…
The second half wouldn’t start much better for Saudi Arabia. Despite a couple of brighter-looking counter attacks, Russia would keep their foot on the gas. After missing a fantastic chance to halve their deficit, Russia took advantage. On 71 minutes, Artem Dzyuba — fresh off his 70th minute substitution — would officially put it away for the hosts with a thumping header. But Cheryshev wasn’t content with just one. And in the first minute of stoppage time, he went with the outside of his foot to make it four for the hosts.
Oh, you thought that was it? Hardly. In the final kick of the game — coming off a rash Saudi Arabia challenge — Golovin lined up to take the free kick just outside of the box. And for as good as his opening assist was in the first half, his free kick was perfect. Just like that, Russia had five. Mercy
The final score read 5-0, and we can’t say it wasn’t thoroughly deserved. Saudi Arabia looked lost on the ball throughout, and eventually they just didn’t have the legs to keep going. For Russia, on the other hand, this is a dream start. Their next match comes against Egypt on Tuesday, June 19. That’s the easier of their two remaining matches on paper, and if they can eek out a point against Egypt then they are in great shape.
If nothing else, Russia gave their fans plenty to cheer about in Thursday’s opener.