Hosts be­gin tour­na­ment with 5-0 vic­tory

The Scotsman - - Front Page - By AN­DREW WARSHAW At Luzh­niki Sta­dium

Rus­sia de­liv­ered the per­fect start to the World Cup for their ex­pec­tant pub­lic and watch­ing pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin when they thrashed Saudi Ara­bia 5-0 in the open­ing fix­ture in Moscow, writes An­drew Warshaw.

The hosts are the low­es­tranked team in the tour­na­ment but pulled off the big­gest open­ing-game vic­tory in 84 years. Rus­sian coach Stanislav Cherch­esov in­sisted that his age­ing side would not get car­ried away.

“It’s just the be­gin­ning but I be­lieve in the play­ers as much as I be­lieve in my­self,” said Cherch­esov, charis­matic and un­der­stated in equal mea­sure. “I am the same, win or lose. All we have proved is that we are on the right track. The goal has al­ways been to get out of the group. Now we for­get to­day and move to the next game.”

Rus­sia, ranked 70th in the world, face Egypt on Tuesday.

There are far greater threats lurk­ing for Team Rus­sia, as they are known, in their bid to make a gen­uinely strong im­pres­sion in their home World Cup.

But you can only beat what’s put in front of you, as they say, and yes­ter­day this huge and di­verse na­tion cel­e­brated col­lec­tively as the hosts opened their ac­count by sweep­ing ma­jes­ti­cally past a des­per­ately poor Saudi Ara­bia.

Walk­ing round the streets of Moscow in the days be­fore the tour­na­ment, you wouldn’t have known the Rus­sian cap­i­tal was about to host an event that was so im­por­tant in terms of im­age and pub­lic re­la­tions. The usual trade­mark flags and bunt­ing were con­spic­u­ous by their ab­sence.

Ev­ery­day Rus­sians are fiercely pa­tri­otic – the older ones at least – but many, it seems, are not that fussed about foot­ball.

And, rarely, if ever, can World Cup hosts have en­tered the tour­na­ment so short on con­fi­dence. At No 70 in the Fifa rank­ings, Rus­sia are the low­est-ranked team but no host na­tion has ever lost in their open­ing game.

They got ex­actly what they needed – an early goal to calm

their nerves – as Yuri Gazin­skiy scored the first of the tour­na­ment – and his first in in­ter­na­tional foot­ball – jump­ing high­est de­spite a sus­pi­cion of a push to head home Alek­sandr Golovin’s cross.

De­spite some­times look­ing com­fort­able on the ball, Saudi Ara­bia have a ten­dency to over­play and they al­most con­ceded a sec­ond when keeper Ab­dul­lah Al-may­ouf was forced to claw the ball away af­ter a de­flected shot by Fy­o­dor Smolov threat­ened to loop over his head.

Alan Dza­goev – joint top scor­era­teuro2012–ap­peared to pull his ham­string and was re­placed by Vil­lar­real’s De­nis Ch­ery­shev, one of only two Rus­sian play­ers who ply their trade out­side of their home coun­try. Dza­goev looked dev­as­tated, his World Cup po­ten­tially over al­most be­fore it had started.

The Saudis had pledged to play with­out fear but in­stead were to­tally over­awed and will need to do some­thing radical to avoid ex­it­ing the group stage with­out a point.

In­stead of get­ting to half­time with no fur­ther dam­age they con­ceded a sec­ond at the worst pos­si­ble time as sub­sti­tute Ch­ery­shev, the best player on the pitch, took out two de­fend­ers and smashed the ball into the net.

The Saudis have not won a game at a World Cup fi­nals since 1994 and were not about to break that se­quence in their first ap­pear­ance for 12 years. Rus­sia were far too quick for them and, on 70 min­utes, Artem Dzyuba made it 3-0 – 90 sec­onds af­ter com­ing off the bench.

The Saudis were out on their feet and their hu­mil­i­a­tion was com­pleted in stop­page time, not once but twice. Ch­ery­shev grabbed his sec­ond be­fore Golovin’s sump­tu­ous free-kick made it five.

It won’t al­ways be as easy as this over the next few weeks. Or per­haps Team Rus­sia have been kid­ding us all along and have been wait­ing for their mo­ment ever since the draw was made.

0 Rus­sia’s De­nis Ch­ery­shev cel­e­brates af­ter scor­ing his team’s sec­ond goal against Saudi Ara­bia.

0 Main: De­nis Ch­ery­shev scores Rus­sia’s sec­ond goal in the 5-0 win over Saudi Ara­bia. Top right: Sub Ar­tyom Dzyuba heads in the third soon af­ter com­ing on. Bot­tom right: A fan makes a state­ment with his jacket, mask and wig.

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