A moment to Cherysh

Dream start as world No. 70 Russians claim first Cup win since 2002 in dominant style

GROUP A

Russia 5
Saudi Arabia 0

After the doom-laden predictions, the joyous start. The hosts kicked off in their lowest ever world ranking and billed as the worst Russian side ever.

They ended with their first World Cup win in 16 years, their first victory in eight games and a five-goal rout. Not for the first time, the watching President Vladimir Putin got what he wanted.

Not for the first time, Saudi Arabia began a World Cup with an exhibition of naive defending. This was almost as embarrassing as their 8-0 thrashing by Germany in 2002 and another early exit beckons as they proved ideal opponents for a seemingly beleaguered Russia team.

Stanislav Cherchesov's side recognised that this was their most winnable game, played positively and reaped an unexpectedly bounteous reward.

Yuri Gazinsky earned the honour of scoring the tournament's first goal and Aleksandr Golovin ended with two assists and a goal.

No substitute had ever scored in the opening game of a World Cup until yesterday.


Russia's Denis Cheryshev scoring their second goal. The winger produced a fine piece of skill, flicking the ball up to evade the sliding challenges of two Saudi Arabia defenders before lashing home to double the hosts' lead during the World Cup's opening match at the Luzhniki Stadium. He added his second and his team's fourth in stoppage time. PHOTO: REUTERS

Then Denys Cheryshev became the history maker en route to a brace and soon had Artem Dzyuba for company.

Russia scarcely looked officially the 70th best national team on the planet and even kept a first clean sheet in almost a year.

The only blight came as an already injury-hit squad lost midfielder Alan Dzagoev with a hamstring problem that threatens to end his tournament.

Yet even this cloud had a silver lining: Cheryshev came on for him.

He opened his international account when Saudi Arabia got caught on the counter-attack and were outnumbered at the back.

Roman Zobnin picked out the unmarked winger Cheryshev, who beat two defenders with a deft first touch before lifting a shot into the roof of the net.

 

He doubled his tally in injury time with a nonchalant effort with the outside of his left foot. The outstanding Golovin struck still later with a free kick.

Cheryshev's earlier strike sandwiched twin headers. Saudi Arabia have shown a capacity to concede headers in World Cups.

The aerial ball proved their undoing again when, following a flurry of corners from Yuri Zhirkov, Golovin centred and Gazinsky headed in his first international goal.

Then Dzyuba, who had only been on the pitch for a minute, headed in another Golovin ball as a Moscow-born player scored in Moscow.

There could have been more goals.

Abdullah Al-Mayouf clawed away a deflected, looping effort from Fyodor Smolov and the striker claimed a penalty when halted by Osama Hawsawi; in the first World Cup with VAR, referee Pitana Nestor's ruling that it was a legal challenge was not overturned.

Saudi Arabia's most enterprising player was the buccaneering left-back Yasser Al-Shahrani, who was bright on the break. Yet this was a dreadful day for them.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 15, 2018, with the headline 'A moment to Cherysh'. Print Edition | Subscribe