- Putin congratulates coach
Host, Russia thursday night got their World Cup campaign in flying colour following a 5-0 spanking of Saudi Arabia in the opening match of 2018 finals staged for the first time in the Siberian region.
Denis Cheryshev struck twice for Russia as the World Cup host were able to sustain the age long tradition of host nation not losing its opening match of the campaign. No host nation has lost in the nine previous curtain-raiser and the Red Army did it in grand style to increase the number of home team wins to seven times.
Previously, were the 7-1 defeat of USA by Italy in 1934, the 4-0 win of Brazil over Mexico in 1950, host, Sweden beating Mexico 3-0 in 1958 and Switzerland losing to host, Chile 3-1 in 1962 while Germany wrecked Costa Rica 4-2 12 years ago in 2006 and at the last edition four years ago, host Brazil won 3-1 over Croatia.
And yesterday night, Lury Gazinsky scored after 12 minutes and Cheryshev added a second before the break after coming on as an injury replacement for Alan Dzagoev.
Artem Dzuyba netted a third before terrific late efforts from Cheryshev and Aleksandr Golovin wrapped up Russia’s first win since October to launch their Group A campaign in style.
Russia headed into the curtainraiser at the 80,000-capacity Luzhniki, the crucible of Russian and Soviet sport, without a victory in over eight months and ranked a lowly 70th in the world.
For Saudi Arabia it was a return to the global showpiece for the first time in 12 years, with their only previous finals wins at the 1994 World Cup.
Only South Africa, in 2010, have failed to advance from the group stage as the host nation and a seven-match winless run had ramped up the pressure on Stanislav Cherchesov’s side.
A lack of an attacking threat in recent outings was a primary concern for Russia going into a group campaign in which they will also face Egypt and Uruguay.
Those fears were soon washed away, at least for the time being, as Alexander Samedov and Fedor Smolov carved out early chances only to be denied by desperate sliding blocks.
The opening goal came soon after, as Saudi Arabia failed to clear a corner and a curling cross in from the left by Golovin picked out an unmarked Gazinsky to head low into the far corner.
It was a goal that prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to turn to the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, seated alongside FIFA chief Gianni Infantino, and shake his hand.
Russia lost Dzagoev to a hamstring injury midway through the first half, the CSKA Moscow midfielder clutching his hamstring as he crumpled to the turf.
But his replacement, former Real Madrid winger Cheryshev, celebrated his recent recall to the national side with Russia’s second goal two minutes before half-time.
Cheryshev was still left with plenty of work to do inside the area after a pass from Roman Zobnin, brilliantly flicking the ball past two closing defenders before rifling into the roof of the net.
In a related development, Russia manager Stanislav Cherchesov has revealed that he was congratulated by Russian president Vladimir Putin after the emphatic win.
Speaking to reports after the game, Cherchesov told reporters (per Agence-France Presse): “The head of state called me and congratulated me, told me to keep playing the way we were, to keep going.”
Despite receiving strong criticism before the match, the 54-year-old revealed that he is ‘relaxed’ as his side look towards their second game of the tournament against Egypt on Tuesday.
“I am relaxed. Why should I be stressed?” Cherchesov asked. “This is just the start and not the end. Just a little more and the score could have been 1-1,” said the former national team goalkeeper.
“Today was simply proof that we are on the right track, but we have to turn the page and look at the next game. Our opponents will be getting stronger by the match.”
He also admitted that his side have been positive leading up to the tournament, but knows that things will only get more difficult from here, with games against Egypt and Uruguay to come.
“After the draw we started understanding and seeing there is a crescendo,” he explained, per BBC Sport.
“We made the first step, then there is a stronger opponent. We don’t know if Mohamed Salah is going to play [in the match against Egypt]. With him or without him it is a respectably strong team, with him stronger obviously. It is just a different adversary.”