The hosts of the FIFA World Cup had never lost an opening match before and on Thursday, Russia ensured that streak stayed alive with a 5-0 thumping over Saudi Arabia in the 2018 edition of soccer's largest tournament.
It was a dominating victory fueled by two goals from Denis Cheryshev. The triumph was Russia's first in over eight months (seven matches), its last coming in an October friendly against South Korea.
Feeding off a crowd of over 80,000 at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia quickly took control of the match, its first since a disappointing campaign in Brazil four years ago was cut short quickly in the group stage.
By the 12th minute, the hosts were on the board thanks to a powerful header from the left side of the box by Iury Gazinsky, who tallied his first-ever international goal for Russia:
Saudi Arabia looked content to try and punch back on the counter-attack, though Russia continued to monopolize possession. Mohammed Alsahlawi provided the most notable chance for the Green Falcons when a 21st minute when a header was deflected tantalizingly wide. But the striker showed that he was someone to keep an eye on, especially after scoring 16 goals in 18 qualifying matches for his country leading up to the tournament.
But Saudi Arabian defending had no answers for Russia's relentless attack as Cheryshev doubled his side's lead in the 43rd minute to cap off a counter-attack that saw three Russians on just three Saudi Arabian defenders. The ball found its way to Cheryshev on the near post and after a cutback fooled two defenders, he was able to blast his chance near post with relative ease:
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Saudi Arabia looked to have settled a bit at the start of the second half, but Russia quickly restored the dynamic to its first-half form. While they constantly probed around the Saudi's box, a third tally came in the 71st minute through the head of substitute Ardem Dzyuba, who was brought on just seven minutes prior to his goal. It was his ninth goal in his last 13 matches for Russia:
Russia put the cherry on top of its victory with two goals in stoppage time. First, a wonder strike from Cheryshev saw the star drop a shot with the outside of his foot from the edge of the 18-yard box into the right corner of the goal before star midfielder Aleksander Golovin's free-kick proved to be the final action of the match:
How did Cheryshev follow up a beautiful first goal?— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 14, 2018
By scoring one like this. ? pic.twitter.com/cGq58weTrz
The three points were desperately needed by Russia, who don't want to disappoint their fans and the likes of Vladimir Putin on home soil. The road ahead gets far more difficult as Egypt, who still are waiting for the verdict on star striker Mohamed Salah's shoulder, and Group A favorites Uruguay await.
Saudi Arabia: 6
Shots on target
Saudi Arabia: 0
Saudi Arabia: 2
Saudi Arabia: 59%