A Russian Stomping
Russia opened the 2018 World Cup with an astonishing and convincing victory against Saudi Arabia. The scoreline was 5-0, which no one was expecting, not even the most avid Russian fan. This was a huge win for a team that had lost their last seven games leading up to this opener.
The hosts scored the first goal of the 2018 World Cup in the 12th minute with a header from Yury Gazinsky. Gazinsky jumped over a Saudi defender, who had lost his balance and banged in a cross to the opposite post. Russia 1. Saudi Arabia 0. Shortly after that goal, Russia were forced to go to their bench in the 24th minute. Alan Dzagoev went down after grabbing the back of his left leg, a non-contact injury, and Denis Cheryshev was brought on to replace him. And what a replacement he would turn out to be.
Twenty minutes later, after multiple wasted chances, Cheryshev was dubbed super-sub, scoring in the 43rd minute. It was the first international goal of his career and clearly picked the right time to score it. Cheryshev’s goal put Russia up 2-0 at halftime.
Where were the Saudis? Saudi Arabia had been careless with the ball throughout the first half. Saudi Arabia players often got caught up in the Russian press and would try make short passes in tight windows or dribbling out of the press. These attempts resulted in hasty turnovers and many Russian counters. The trend would continue in the second half.
Saudi Arabia appeared to stubbornly stick to their original gameplan entering the second half. And Russia continued their press with some success but no goals for the first 20 minutes of the half. Saudi Arabia were able to create a couple of chances when they started being more patient and passing back to their own end out of the press; something they didn’t do in the first half. Then, they abandoned what looked like a positive adjustment to Russia and returned to their careless play. In the 70th minute, Artem Dzyuba pegged in a thumping header from the 6-yard box into the far post. This put the hosts up a demoralizing 3-0. It would not end there.
The fourth official indicated three minutes of stoppage time to be added on and Russia enjoyed every bit of those three minutes. Cheryshev would nab a brace in the 91st min with a looping shot from just outside the 18-yard box. 4-0. It would have been the goal of the match had it not been for a foul in the 93rd min. Aleksandr Golovin took a free kick from just outside the 18-yard box curling it over and around the wall and away from the Saudi keeper. Saudi Arabia looked lazy, careless and stubborn. When something was not working, they refused to change and were punished for it. Russia owned the opener throughout the entire match; there was never any doubt who was going to win.
That scoreline is the confidence booster a lowly rated team needs to make it into the knockout rounds; Russia couldn’t have dreamed up a better way to open the World Cup and their quest to make it out of the group. The hosts put Egypt and Uruguay on notice with this emphatic win. Russia only needs now to at least draw with their next two matches as a +5 on goal difference should seal a spot for them in the Round of 16.