< De­nis Ch­ery­shev and host Rus­sia open the World Cup with a 5-0 vic­tory over Saudi Ara­bia. Ch­ery­shev, a sub­sti­tute, scored two goals.

The Day - - SPORTS -

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 at Moscow 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. 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 to­day in Yekaterinburg. 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 Gazin­sky's goal, which came af­ter the Saudis strug­gled to clear a Rus­sian cor­ner, and the header from the tall 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. Rus­sia's bench play­ers had 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.


Rus­sia’s Alexan­der Same­dov, right, tries to stop Saudi Ara­bia’s Salem Al­dawsari, cen­ter, dur­ing the group A match of the World Cup on Thursday at Moscow.

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