The opening day of the 2018 World Cup couldn’t have gone much better for Russia. Going into the world cup as hosts, they had been written off by their own fans. After a poor showing at Euro 2016, they seemed to be the shadow of a team that made it to the semi finals of the same competition eight years previously.
However, after a brief opening ceremony, Russia’s men in red took their opponents apart in spectacular fashion. This was a performance that was a clarion call to Russian fans to get behind their team as they put together an attacking performance to match the grand occasion.
From the off, the Saudi defence looked leaky, vulnerable under the high ball and vulnerable on the counter attack.
After going 1–0 up to a well taken header from midfielder, Yuri Gazinsky, they lost talismanic midfielder Alan Dzagoev to a hamstring injury.
His replacement, Denis Cheryshev made sure that his side made their first half dominance count with a labyrinthine dribble and finish in the 43rd minute, cutting through the shoddy Saudi defending.
From the start of the second half, the pace of the game dropped significantly. The Russians cruised through the opening 26 minutes of the second half before another substitute scored the winning goal. Giant striker Artem Dzyuba was simply too big, too powerful in the box as he put away another header to render Russia’s lead unassailable.
Henceforward, a familiar pattern of Russian dominance emerged, with the Saudis rarely looking a threat as they were outclassed by a fitter and more physical outfit. Just as the match looked to be fading into a fairly routine 3-0 win for the hosts, the outstanding Cheryshev popped up with a moment of inspiration.
Collecting a Dzyuba flick on at the edge of the penalty area, he took a touch before arcing a half-volley off the outside of his left boot past Saudi keeper, Abdulla Almuaiouf.
In the 94th minute, 22-year-old attacking midfielder Golovin added a goal to his assists for Gazinsky and Dzyuba by curling a free kick past a flailing Almuaiof to end the Arabian torment.
Vladimir Putin himself couldn’t have written the script much better, but a note of caution must be added to the result. Russia will be facing three of the finest attackers in world football in Egypt’s Mohamed Salah, and Uruguay’s striking pair of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. If they can get past these opponents, they will be stood in good stead for the rest of the tournament.
The Saudis, on the other hand, look down and out already. With their goal difference severely damaged and going up against two deadly attacks in their other group matches, it looks like the Green Falcons will be flying home soon.