By Owolabi Abiola
World Cup hosts Russia opened the tournament in grand style at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on Thursday evening, as they thrashed Saudi Arabia 5-0.
Russia started strongly and needed only 12 minutes to claim the lead, with Aleksandr Golovin’s in-swinging cross finding the head of Yury Gazinskiy, who directed his effort beyond the reach of goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf to make it 1-0.
The hosts suffered a major setback just before the mid point of the first half, with key attacking midfielder Alan Dzagoev pulling up with a hamstring injury while sprinting toward goal on a counter attack. He was replaced by Denis Cheryshev in the 24th minute.
Stanislav Cherchesov’s side powered to the top of Group A thanks to goals from Yury Gazinskiy, Aleksandr Golovin, Denis Cheryshev and Artem Dzyuba – with the latter both scoring as substitutes.
The substitute added stride and rhythm to Russia’s attack, and in the 42nd minute he showed great tranquility in the penalty area to dummy two defenders before shooting a left-footed effort into the top corner to see the host nation 2-0 up at the break.
Saudi Arabia had offered minor threat in the first half, but in the 11th minute of the second they almost pulled a goal back, with striker Mohammed Al-Sahlawi getting onto a right-wing cross and seeing his effort flash across the face of goal.
Yet any hope the Asian side had of a comeback went up in flmaes in the 71st minute when another substitute, Artem Dzyuba, got on the end of a cross from Golovin and headed Russia into a 3-0 lead with virtually his first touch of the game.
Cheryshev and Golovin added the buzz on top for Russia with two sublime strikes in injury time to wrap up the game at 5-0 – the former sent a curling effort from the outside of his left foot into the top corner, while the latter netted direct from a free kick.
Russia will return to action next week Tuesday, June 19, when they take on Egypt in Saint Petersburg, while Saudi Arabia will play their second game the following day, when they face Uruguay in Rostov-on-Don.
Russia (2) 5 (Gazinskiy 12’, Cheryshev 42’ 90+1’, Dzyuba 71’, Golovin 90+4’)
Saudi Arabia 0
Russia: Akinfeev, Fernandes, Kutepov, Ignashevich, Gazinskiy, Dzagoev (Cheryshev 24’), Smolov (Dzyuba 70’), Zobnin, Golovin, Zhirkov, Samedov (Kuzyayev 64’)
Saudi Arabia: Al-Mayouf, Os Hawsawi, Om Hawsawi, Al-Breik, Al-Faraj, Al-Shehri (Bahebri 72’), Al-Sahlawi (Assiri 84’), Al-Shahrani, Otayf (Al-Muwallad 64’), Al-Jassim, Al-Dawsari