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World Cup Opening Day Review: Russia 5-0 Saudi Arabia

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October 28, 2018
Russia got off to the perfect start in the opening match of the World Cup

The opening match of the World Cup saw the head of FIFA, Gianni Infantino, address the world by decreeing that, for the next month, football will conquer Russia, and Russia, through football, can conquer the world. Nothing weird about that at all. Would the match live up to such strange standards? Well, a scoreline which excited but a match that bored would suggest so.

Affairs started brightly enough with the Saudi’s seeming comfortable in possession, shifting the ball around with a succession of short passes. Russia, in contrast, were powerful and drove at their opponents hard and direct. On 12 minutes, Russia punished the Saudi’s failure to clear a corner and Yuri Gazinsky put his team ahead with a header at the back post. Ten minutes later, disaster struck for Russia as Alan Dzagoev went down with what looked like a tournament-ending hamstring injury and was replaced by Denis Cheryshev, a player who was to have marked impact on the result.

The Saudi’s continued to battle gamely but most of their good work was undone by sloppy passing and being caught in possession with Russia quite content to let them make those mistakes and then break at pace. One nil down with half-time approaching and the Saudi’s were still in with a shout but their naivety in defence caught them out yet again, Cheryshev duping two defenders before calmly lifting the ball high into the net. It was a moment of class which was sadly lacking in the first 45 outside of the clever probing of Aleksandr Golovin.

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Poor Saudi Passing Punished as Russia Put Gloss on Result

The second half dragged on interminably, characterized by increased sloppiness and misplaced passing on the Saudi side with Russia still content to wait for the inevitable mistake before pouncing. On the 71st minute, the dirge was pierced by another headed goal by another substitute, Artem Dzyuba, with the assist once again provided by that man Golovin. So with full-time rapidly approaching, the 3-0 result seemed likely to stand but with the three minutes of extra-time signalled, Cheryshev decided it was time to stick his name in the hat for Goal of the Tournament via a wonderful strike with the outside of his left boot into the far corner whilst on the run. With practically the last kick of the match, Golovin got the goal his overall play deserved, skillfully putting away a free-kick from the edge of the area.

This was an unexpectedly excellent start for the hosts, Russia; an opening win with five goals scored and none conceded is mighty fine in anyone’s book. Saudi Arabia, however, were badly shown up. They had plenty of possession but ultimately a paucity of purpose; as a result, it’s difficult to see them getting anything from their remaining games in this group. The hosts can march on with some hope but whether they make it out of their group or not, they will always have this opening night to savour.

About the author

Eric Roberts
Eric Roberts

Sports Journalist

Eric has been a sports journalist for over 20 years and has travelled the world covering top sporting events for a number of publications. He also has a passion for betting and uses his in-depth knowledge of the sports world to pinpoint outstanding odds and value betting opportunities.