Five goals – two in the first half and another three in the second half ensured the hosts made a flying and historic start they desired with a 5-0 whitewash of Saudi Arabia as FIFA’s 2018 World Cup kicked off with the biggest opening day scoreline in a World Cup.
The first on 12 minutes and the second on 43 minutes and a dramatic introduction of Artem Dzyuba, who scored with his first touch in the 70th; a rasping shot from outside the box on 88 minutes and the fifth a peach of a free kick from Aleksandr Golovin, three minutes into second half added time.
The hosts needed a flying start and they got one through 28-year-old Yuri Gazinski in the 12th minute after having three corner kicks from the right and left flanks. The FK Krasnodar central midfielder got above his marker and powered a header past Saudi goalkeeper, Abdullah Al-Mayoof.
The Saudi team started well, passing accurately around midfield but the Russians were more business-like as their incursions were mostly towards goal.
After 10 minutes, the Saudis had more possession 64%-36% but for the first goal the Saudi defenders stood off the cross from Aleksandr Golovin and Gazinski was virtually unmarked at the back post, which ensured a brilliant header that beat the goalkeeper. Mohammed Sahlawi almost got the equaliser on 20 minutes but his header was blocked for a corner kick.
The Russians were then dealt a bad blow as Alan Dzagoev pulled up with a hamstring and had to be replaced by Denis Cheryshev. The Villarreal winger was the second goal scorer with two minutes left in the first half. The left-footed player left two Saudi defenders on the deck before rifling a shot into the top right corner of Al-Mayoof’s post.
Smolov beat the offside four minutes into the second half but Osama Hawsawi had tracked back well to concede a corner. Aleksandr Samedov then flashed a shot just over the bar as the Russians sought to kill off the game.
After more than 10 consecutive passes Taiseer Al Jasaam almost got on the end of a teasing cross from the right by Mohamed Al-Burayk on 56 minutes. Salman Al Faraj then headed a free kick wide
Cheryshev’s header was comfortable for Al-Mayoof in the 65th minute after both teams made changes. Al-Mayoof then had to save a rebound from Smolov who followed a shot by Roman Zobnin.
The cherry on the cake was the immediate impact from Artem Dzyuba, who replaced Smolov a minute before his headed goal. That was it – game, set, and match to the hosts and smiles all around the Luzhniki Stadium. Salem Al Dawsari went on a run and blasted a shot towards goal but the goal veered away from goal.
Golovin received the first yellow card in Russia 2018 in the 88th minute as he wrestled down Al Faraj in the Saudi’s half. Three minutes were added on and it was Cheryshev who got his brace with a superlative shot that he bent past Al-Mayoof for his brace. But the goals had not ended as Golovin bent a free kick past Al-Mayoof for the biggest opening day victory in the history of the FIFA World Cup.
The hosts now have five days to wallow in this win before facing Egypt while Juan Antonio Pizzi has a lot to perk up his players before their next match against Uruguay.