RUS­SIA OFF TO FLY­ING START

▶ Hosts tri­umph 5-0 in World Cup opener in Moscow to leave Pizzi’s Saudi Ara­bia fac­ing tough task to qual­ify

The National - News - - SPORT - JOHN McAULEY Moscow

It was a first of many.

The first in­ter­na­tional goal for Yuri Gazin­sky, Rus­sia’s de­fen­sive mid­fielder whose place in the squad had come as a sur­prise to some; the first goal in his side’s clash with Saudi Ara­bia at a packed and par­ti­san Luzh­niki Sta­dium in Moscow; the first goal of the 2018 World Cup.

Most im­por­tantly, it set the hosts on their way to a first vic­tory of this World Cup. A first World Cup on home soil. Kazin­sky scored, first-half sub­sti­tute De­nis Ch­ery­shev added an­other, then Artem Dzyuba rose from the bench to nab one too. In in­jury-time, Ch­ery­shev curled in his se­cond.

Mo­ments later, Alexsandr Glov­ing capped a man-of-the-match dis­play with a pre­ci­sion free-kick. Rus­sia had five.

Saudi, were slack in pos­ses­sion and ragged with­out it, had crum­bled. They did not have a sin­gle shot on tar­get.

Rus­sia opened this 32-team, four­week foot­ball ex­trav­a­ganza with three pre­cious points. They avoided the ig­nominy of be­com­ing the first host na­tion to lose foot­ball’s great cur­tain-raiser.

They sur­vived Rob­bie Wil­liams, the yawn­ing build-up of pre-tour­na­ment pres­sure and the pre-match nerves.

His team had tri­umphed 5-0, de­lighted and de­liv­ered for the ma­jor­ity of the 78,000 jammed in­side the Luzh­niki. Fiercely crit­i­cised and with very lit­tle ex­pected of them, Rus­sia got the job done.

Af­ter­wards, Rus­sia man­ager Stanislav Cherch­esov had to leave the press brief­ing mo­men­tar­ily to ac­cept a phone call, be­fore re­turn­ing to say: “It was the head of state, who called me and asked me to share his thanks to the team and asked me to con­tinue like this.”

Rus­sia had not been ex­pected to do this to the Saudis. To any­body.

“We are not try­ing to si­lence any­body,” Cherch­esov said. “We are just do­ing our work. It’s just the be­gin­ning, not the end. We won 5-0 and got three points, but we could have drawn 1-1. Noth­ing would have changed.”

It took them 12 min­utes to change the com­plex­ion of the match in their favour. Saudi failed to clear a cor­ner, Golovin crossed, Taiser Al Jas­sim slipped and Gazin­sky headed back across goal­keeper Ab­dul­lah Al May­ouf and into the op­po­si­tion goal.

The Luzh­niki erupted, Al May­ouf as well: Al Jas­sim had some­how found him­self with two men to mark.

To their credit, Saudi had be­gan well enough in pos­ses­sion. Yet they were too open through­out, al­low­ing Rus­sia to set back and counter quick. In one such break, Alan Dzagoev, the once in­flu­en­tial mid­fielder, surged for­ward and pulled his ham­string. His match ended on 22 min­utes, per­haps his World Cup also.

He had waited seven years for one in his home coun­try, foot­ball’s cru­elty laid bare. His dis­ap­point­ment in­ad­ver­tently al­lowed Rus­sia a se­cond.

This time, Golovin passed off to Ro­man Zob­nin, who laid the ball to Ch­ery­shev, Dzagoev’s re­place­ment. Ch­ery­shev feinted to shoot, scooped the ball away from two slid­ing Saudis to fire home. Rus­sia were two to the good two min­utes be­fore half time.

Saudi, ap­pear­ing at a first World Cup since 2006, sought a re­sponse. Not long into the se­cond half, Mo­hammed Al Sahlawi failed to con­nect with a cross across goal. That was as good as it got. With­out an in­ter­na­tional goal in more than a year, the calls for Fa­had Al Muwal­lad’s in­clu­sion grew ever more le­git­i­mate. Per­haps he should have started.

Al Muwal­lad was even­tu­ally in­tro­duced, just after the hour, but Rus­sia al­ways looked more like scor­ing. On 67 min­utes, Zob­nin forced Al May­ouf into ac­tion once more. Four min­utes later, he col­lected the ball from his goal again.

Again Golovin pro­vided the cross, again it de­manded a team­mate cap­i­talised. Dzyuba did, head­ing home, as Rus­sia hur­tled to­wards the win. With mo­ments left, Ch­ery­shev arched his shot high into the Saudi net, gift­ing the game its best goal. Golovin’s free-kick al­most ri­valled it, but it was split­ting hairs.

The match went ex­actly how they wanted. De­spite the dam­age, the dis­par­age­ment and the de­spair, de­spite be­ing the low­est-ranked team in the tour­na­ment, Rus­sia opened a first World Cup on home soil with a first vic­tory.

Reuters

De­nis Ch­ery­shev cel­e­brates scor­ing Rus­sia’s se­cond goal against Saudi Ara­bia in the open­ing game of the 2018 World Cup

It was a tough night for Saudi Ara­bia

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