World Cup Opener Results in Target Practice for Host

It was a dream start for Russia’s compressed, counter-attacking style that proved too much for a listless Saudi Arabia. The hosts were led by substitutes Denis Cheryshev and Artem Dzyuba to a 5-0 win at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

The patient transitioning of Russia outpaced Saudi Arabia’s passive defense Thursday morning. The Arabians earned greater possession but were unable to turn it into an offensive bite.

An address from Russian President Vladimir Putin minutes before kickoff signalled the end to pregame festivities that featured a short performance from British singer Robbie Williams and Russian soprano Aida Garifullina.

Following kickoff, it took the Russian side little time to make the breakthrough and inflict a feeble Saudi Arabian group. Following a short corner kick, Iury Gazinski’s 12th minute header from eight yards marked the first goal of the tournament.

The Russian out-wrestled his Saudi defender and nodded a well-taken header past goalkeeper Abdullah Almuaiouf.

The lead was doubled before halftime when Cheryshev capped off a Russian counter by blasting high past the helpless Almuaiouf. In the second half, the hosts held onto its game plan and extended the lead through Dzyuba. His header in the box all but sealed the win.

Saudi Arabia enjoyed more possession but had no shots on target.

Their failure to transition from the defensive third past Russia’s compact defense played into the host’s hands. Russian manager Stanislav Cherchesov’s tactics were executed to perfection – they allowed the Arabians to enjoy the ball while corralling and chapperoning them around the pitch, holding them to zero shots on goal.

Staying compact in defense and expanding when winning the ball back with speed and devastating prowess ultimately won the game. Cherchesov’s coaching outmatched his counterpart Juan Antonio Pizzi, manager of Saudi Arabia.

In stoppage time, Aleksandr Golovin made it 5-0 with a sensational free kick. But it was Cheryshev’s second of the day and Russia’s fourth that stole the spotlight. With the goals, the midfielder became the first substitute to score in a World Cup opener.

Cheryshev came on the pitch to earn Man of the Match honors after a double that was completed with a stunning outside-of-the-left-foot shot from outside the box that curled over Almuaiouf and under the crossbar.

Up next for the Russian side will be a matchup against an Egypt (the Pharaohs) who are hoping to have injured talisman Mohamed Salah back in time. After a big win that leaves them +5 in goal difference, a victory against Egypt can earn the hosts a spot in the knockout stage.

Uruguay and the Pharaohs play in Ekaterinburg Arena in Ekaterinburg at 5 a.m. tomorrow to round out the first stage of Group A. A set of Group B matches will follow between Morocco, Iran (8 a.m.) and Portugal, Spain (11 a.m.).