Hosts begin tournament with 5-0 victory
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.