Ma­jor tri­umph

Rus­sia, Putin cel­e­brate first World Cup win in 16 years with 5-0 vic­tory over Saudi Ara­bia

The Western Star - - SPORTS - BY JAMES ELLINGWORTH

Vladimir Putin craves sport­ing glory, and he got an­other taste of it in the open­ing match of the World Cup.

Rus­sia ended a 16-year wait for vic­tory in the tour­na­ment by rout­ing Saudi Ara­bia 5-0 Thursday in Group A, with the Rus­sian pres­i­dent watch­ing from the VIP box along­side FIFA pres­i­dent Gianni In­fantino and the Saudi crown prince.

It was the host na­tion’s first World Cup win since 2002, and it raises the hope that Rus­sia can get past the group stage for the first time since the Soviet era.

Yuri Gazin­sky ini­tially put Rus­sia ahead with a header from Alexan­der Golovin’s cross when the Saudis failed to clear a cor­ner in the 12th minute. Gazin­sky charged for­ward to meet the ball as Saudi player Taisir Al-Jas­sam stum­bled, leav­ing a sim­ple fin­ish.

Putin and In­fantino smiled and shrugged as they sat next to Saudi Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man. Putin then reached over to shake the prince’s hand.

Sub­sti­tute De­nis Ch­ery­shev soon scored the first of his two goals. He chipped the ball over two Saudi de­fend­ers in the 43rd minute and shot over goal­keeper Ab­dul­lah Al Muaiouf’s right side to make it 2-0. He later chipped the ball in for Rus­sia’s fourth goal in stop­page time.

“I have never done any­thing like this,” Ch­ery­shev said. “I al­ready felt very happy when I knew I could come here with my squad, but I never, ever dreamed of some­thing like this.”

Af­ter Ch­ery­shev’s first goal, Ar­tyom Dzyuba made an in­stant im­pact off the bench to make it 3-0 in the 71st with a header from Golovin’s cross. Golovin added the fifth from a free kick.

Fol­low­ing a lav­ish open­ing cer­e­mony fea­tur­ing Bri­tish singer Rob­bie Wil­liams, Putin wel­comed vis­it­ing fans and promised Rus­sia would be a “hos­pitable and friendly” host.

Putin has made no se­cret about his de­sire for suc­cess in in­ter­na­tional sports, es­pe­cially at the Olympics. But high points for Rus­sian ath­letes have been rare since the coun­try’s im­age was tar­nished by dop­ing, with nu­mer­ous Olympic medals stripped for drug use.

In a World Cup first, the video as­sis­tant ref­eree sys­tem was avail­able for the match be­tween the tour­na­ment’s low­est-ranked teams, though it wasn’t used for an of­fi­cial re­view.

The Saudis, who last won a match at the World Cup in 1994, failed to get a sin­gle shot on tar­get.

GROUP DY­NAM­ICS

The win for Rus­sia is a big boost to its hopes of ad­vanc­ing, but it will still face a tough test against Egypt on June 19 and Uruguay six days later.

With the five goals against the Saudis, a draw could be enough against ei­ther of its two re­main­ing op­po­nents.

Saudi Ara­bia’s route to the knock­out round is much more dif­fi­cult. The Saudis will face Uruguay on June 20 and then Egypt on June 25. Egypt and Uruguay play Friday in Yekaterinburg.

KEY TO SUC­CESS

Rus­sia’s play­ers were sig­nif­i­cantly taller and heav­ier than the Saudis, a help when chal­leng­ing for the ball and when the penalty area was crowded.

That had an ef­fect on Gazin- sky’s goal, which came af­ter the Saudis strug­gled to clear a Rus­sian cor­ner, and the header from the tall and stocky Dzyuba.

One con­cern for Rus­sia is that cre­ative mid­fielder Alan Dza­goev picked up a sus­pected ham­string in­jury, but that was what al­lowed Ch­ery­shev to come off the bench and change the game.

FRINGE PLAY­ERS TRI­UMPH

Rus­sia’s bench their day of glory.

Dzyuba had played only once for Rus­sia since 2016, while Ch­ery­shev and Gazin­sky made two appearances in that time.

Raised in Spain, where his fa­ther Dmitry taught at Real Madrid’s youth acad­emy, Ch­ery­shev showed his tech­ni­cal skills by beat­ing the two Saudi de­fend­ers be­fore his first goal.

Dzyuba spent half the sea­son on loan af­ter re­ported dis­putes with Zenit St. Peters­burg man­age­ment, but forced his way back into the Rus­sia team with strong play. play­ers had

QUOTABLE

Saudi coach Juan An­to­nio Pizzi: “We were not do­ing what we wanted to do. The op­pos­ing team did not have to make a huge ef­fort to win.”

Golovin: “For us, each game is like the last.”

AP PHOTO/MATTHIAS SCHRADER

Rus­sia’s Yuri Gazin­sky cel­e­brates with team­mates af­ter scor­ing his side’s first goal dur­ing the group A match be­tween Rus­sia and Saudi Ara­bia which opens the 2018 soc­cer World Cup at the Luzh­niki sta­dium in Moscow, Rus­sia, Thursday.

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