Ch­ery­shev gives World Cup host head start

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FRONT PAGE -

MOSCOW: De­nis Ch­ery­shev said there were “no words to ex­press” how he felt af­ter he struck twice for Rus­sia as the World Cup hosts thumped Saudi Ara­bia 5-0 in the open­ing match of the tour­na­ment in Moscow Thurs­day.

Iury Gazin­sky scored af­ter 12 min­utes and Ch­ery­shev added a sec­ond goal be­fore the break af­ter com­ing on as an in­jury re­place­ment for Alan Dza­goev. Artem Dzuyba net­ted a third be­fore ter­rific late ef­forts from Ch­ery­shev and Alek­sandr Golovin wrapped up Rus­sia’s first win since Oc­to­ber to launch their Group A cam­paign in style.

“There are no words to ex­press what I’m feel­ing right now,” said Ch­ery­shev, who was re­called to the Rus­sia squad in March af­ter an ab­sence of more than two years.

“I could never have dreamed of any­thing like this. I felt very happy when I knew I would be here in the squad but I never dreamed of any­thing like this.

“I’m happy we’ve won but we shouldn’t stop there,” he added.

Rus­sia headed into the cur­tain­raiser at the 80,000-ca­pac­ity Luzh­niki, the cru­cible of Rus­sian and Soviet sport, with­out a vic­tory in more than eight months and ranked a lowly 70th in the world.

For Saudi Ara­bia it was a re­turn to the global show­piece for the first time in 12 years, with their only pre­vi­ous fi­nals wins at the 1994 World Cup. Only South Africa, in 2010, have failed to ad­vance from the group stage as the host na­tion and a seven-match win­less run had ramped up the pres­sure on Stanislav Cherch­esov’s side.

A lack of an at­tack­ing threat in re­cent out­ings was a pri­mary con­cern for Rus­sia go­ing into a group cam­paign in which they will also face Egypt and Uruguay.

Those fears were soon washed away, at least for the time be­ing, as Alexan­der Same­dov and Fe­dor Smolov carved out some early chances only to be de­nied by des­per­ate slid­ing blocks.

The open­ing goal came soon af­ter, as Saudi Ara­bia failed to clear a cor­ner and a curl­ing cross in from the left by Golovin picked out an un­marked Gazin­sky to head low into the far cor­ner.

It was a goal that prompted Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin to turn to the Saudi crown prince Mo­ham­mad bin Sal­man, seated along­side FIFA chief Gianni In­fantino, and shake his hand.

Rus­sia lost Dza­goev to a ham­string in­jury mid­way through the first half, the CSKA Moscow mid­fielder clutch­ing his ham­string as he crum­pled to the turf.

But his re­place­ment, for­mer Real Madrid winger Ch­ery­shev, celebrated his re­cent re­call to the na­tional side with Rus­sia’s sec­ond goal two min­utes be­fore half­time.

Ch­ery­shev was still left with plenty of work to do in­side the area af­ter a pass from Roman Zob­nin, bril­liantly flick­ing the ball past two clos­ing de­fend­ers be­fore ri­fling into the roof of the net.

Saudi briefly threat­ened early in the sec­ond half of the game when an invit­ing cross in from the right skipped just be­yond the reach of Taisir Al-Jas­sim.

Rus­sia then nearly scored a third goal when player Ab­dul­lah Al-May­ouf spilled a low drive from Zob­nin, with the Saudi goal­keeper re­cov­er­ing just in time to nudge the ball away from Smolov.

The for­ward was soon re­placed by Dzyuba, who struck al­most im­me­di­ately by head­ing another Golovin cross be­yond a help­less May­ouf in the 71st minute.

Ch­ery­shev ham­mered in a fourth with the out­side of his left foot in stop­page time and Golovin capped a mag­nif­i­cent per­for­mance by bend­ing in a last-gasp free kick.

Rus­sia meet Egypt in their next match on June 19 in Saint Peters­burg, while Saudi Ara­bia will look to re­bound against group fa­vorites Ros­tov-on-Don a day later. –

Ch­ery­shev, who was re­called to the Rus­sia squad af­ter an ab­sence of more than two years, scored two goals in the 5-0 open­ing match against Saudi Ara­bia.

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