Russia walloped Saudi Arabia 5-0 in the opening game of the 2018 World Cup, a win that was never really in doubt, but got out of hand in the last ten minutes when the physicality of Russia just completely wore down an overmatched Saudi Arabia side.
Saudi Arabia actually looked OK in pockets, and had a 63-37% possession advantage at halftime, but they too often played directly into Russia’s hands — Russia wanted to sit back, defend, and counter attack, and that’s exactly what they did.
The win for Russia was slightly soured by an injury to attacker Alan Dzagoev, who pulled up with what appeared to be an injured hamstring in the first half. While very sad for Dzagoev, his injury did clear the way for Denis Cheryshev, who came in and scored two goals, including an absolute beauty in added time to give Russia a 4-0 lead.
Cheryshev entering also pushed 22-year-old Aleksandr Golovin inside, where he completely took the game over, grabbing two assists and a goal with the last kick of the game off a free kick from 20 yards out. Golovin, who plays for CSKA Moscow, was already on the radar of some big European clubs, and his performance today probably doubled the price some team is going to pay for him. He was that good.
See all the goals below.
12’ — GOAL RUSSIA: YURI GAZINSKY ON A BEAUTIFUL CROSS FROM GOLOVIN
It was coming. A corner kick was cleared, then collected by Golovin, who had a neat 1-2 with Zhirkov, got the ball back, then served a dipping cross to the back post, which Gazinsky heads down and across goal and in.
No pressure on either the ball in or on the two (!) unmarked men on the back post.
43’ — GOAL CHERYSHEV, RUSSIA LEADS 2-0
Cheryshev loves his left foot! The substitute, a minute after blowing a chance for a cross because he refused to kick it with his right foot, gets the ball back and, after cutting back across two sliding defenders, gets it on his left and rockets in the top left corner.
It was Golovin again, who used his speed to close out on a turnover, collected the ball, two passes, and then it was Cheryshev.
71’ — GOAL FOR RUSSIA, AND IT’S DZYUBA FROM GOLOVIN. 3-0 RUSSIA.
THE BIG BEEFY BOY SCORES. Another goal from a substitute, the 6’4 Dzubya this time gets on the end of a fantastic ball from Golovin on the right side. Golovin is out here serving up perfect balls and running this game, and his agent just shut his phone off from all the calls he’s getting from European clubs.
90 + 1’ — GOAL RUSSIA, AND IT’S CHERYSHEV AGAIN. 4-0.
How about a worldie to end it? Dzyuba demands the ball from a deep free kick, heads it down to Cheryshev, who takes one touch, then rockets one with the outside of his left foot into the top right corner. Cheryshev has still not touched the ball with his right foot AND IT DOESN’T MATTER.
90+5’ — GOAL RUSSIA, AND GOLOVIN GETS IN ON THE FUN. 5-0.
STOP KILLING THEM, RUSSIA. THEY’RE ALREADY DEAD.
Golovin wins a free kick on the edge of the box, then curls it gorgeously around the wall and into the top right hand corner. Before the tournament began, we wrote that he needed to have a nice few weeks here to ensure that he was heading to a big European club next year. It appears that will be happening.
FULL TIME. RUSSIA WINS, 5-0.
Russia Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1):
Akinfeev; Zhirkov, Igansevich, Kutepov, Fernandes; Gazinskiy, Zobnin; Golovin, Dzagoev, Samedov; Smolov
Saudi Arabia Starting Lineup (4-3-3):
Al-Maiouf; Al-Shahrani, Omar Hawsawi, Osama Hawsawi, Al-Breik; Otayf, Al-Faraj, Al-Jassim; Al-Dawsari, Al-Sahlawi, Al-Shehri
When the 2018 World Cup kicks off Thursday, the opening match will serve as a bit of an appetizer for the rest of the tournament. The game kicks off at 11 a.m. ET from the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, and you can watch on FOX or Telemundo. You can watch online in English here, and in Spanish here.
Very few experts are expecting Russia or Saudi Arabia to make a deep run in the tournament, but the opener should be an exciting game anyway — both teams know they need to win to have a good shot to make the knockout round. The other two teams in Group A are Egypt and Uruguay, who will both be slight favorites against the hosts and big favorites against Saudi Arabia.
The match will be preceded by an opening ceremony with singers Robbie Williams and Aida Garifullina, sure to be attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin and a slew of other dignitaries. It’s usually a good time, so make sure to tune in a little early.
Stay tuned for live updates, key highlights, and whatever else we feel like blogging about.
Russia vs. Saudi Arabia time, TV channel, and streaming info
Russia needs Alan Dzagoev to wake up
The Russian attack has been quiet during warm-up friendlies. If the hosts are going to start scoring, they’ll need Alan Dzagoev to create chances. Dzagoev is the team’s primary playmaking force, but he’s missed the last two big tournaments — Euro 2016 and Confederations Cup 2017 — due to injury. He’ll be in the starting lineup this time around, though. If Russia improves on its bad showings in those competitions, Dzagoev is likely to be the reason.
This is a bit of a weird opener
In past World Cups, the host has been either a big-name favorite or a lovable underdog. This years hosts are neither, which makes Russia vs. Saudi Arabia a very strange opening match.
We’re left with a host that doesn’t have much of a narrative. It won’t be a huge story if Russia scrapes second to limp into the knockout stage, and it won’t be a huge story if they flame out in last place either. They’re the first World Cup host of their kind in years — a team that’s been average for decades, and that fans have accepted as average. For that reason, the opening game between Russia and Saudi Arabia feels very much like an opening act before the headliners come out.
But there are some technically talented individuals on both teams, even if the squads as a whole don’t look great. Dzagoev and Aleksandr Golovin are capable of spectacular assists for Russia, while Yahya Al-Shehri, a small, tricky winger, is Saudi Arabia’s best hope of creating something special.