- World Cup hosts Russia kicked off their Group A campaign in style with a 5-0 win over Saudi Arabia on Thursday.
- Russia made light of the pressure to see off Saudi Arabia in style as they won the tournament opener 5-0 in Moscow.
- Russia (5-0) recorded the second biggest victory ever by a host nation in their opening match at a World Cup tournament, after Italy vs USA in 1934 (7-1).
No host team has lost a World Cup opening match and Russia kept up that tradition with goals from Yury Gazinsky (12), Denis Cheryshev (43, 90+1), Artem Dzyuba (71) and Aleksandr Golovin (90+3).
It leaves Stanislav Cherchesov’s men with confidence ahead of testing fixtures against Egypt and Uruguay as they aim to uphold the record of hosts at major international tournaments – 20 of 21 host teams have progressed from their group.
Russia head coach Stanislav Cherchesov had insisted beforehand that there was no pressure. This was just a game. But the country’s president Vladimir Putin was looking on from the stands and the eyes of the world were on the hosts as they kicked off the 2018 World Cup. Anything but victory over Saudi Arabia would have been a humiliation.
For Saudi Arabia, there was not much to cling to as they looked very lightweight and tactically naive – it could be a long few weeks for The Green Falcons, who did not register a shot on target.
Alan Dzagoev then hobbled off with what looked like a hamstring injury – but his replacement took his opportunity with both hands. Man of the match, Cheryshev showed sublime awareness just before the break to flick the ball over his marker, who slid in recklessly, and rifled home into the net.
Saudi Arabia looked devoid of belief the longer the match went on and Roman Zobnin conjured up Russia’s third goal.
Zobnin found space just outside the area and his delivery was headed home by another substitute Dzyuba, who had only been on the pitch 90 seconds.
Russia sensed the opportunity to boost their goal difference and scored two more in added time as the visitors wilted.
Cheryshev popped up with another moment of magic – this time with the outside of his left boot – while Golovin curled in a free-kick from 25 yards.