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Don’t Disregard Russia’s Dominant Win Over Saudi Arabia in World Cup Opener

The Russian Men's National Team did the unthinkable, routing Saudi Arabia 5-0 in the World Cup opener at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.
World Cup Opener

Editorial (June 14, 2018) — For weeks, the international media has pegged the opening match of the 2018 FIFA World Cup as a sleeper.

Russia, the hosts of the FIFA World Cup, opened up the tournament against Saudi Arabia. In the FIFA World Rankings, they are the two lowest-ranked teams at this year’s edition of the competition. Russia sits at 70th while Saudi Arabia is slotted in at 67th.

Don’t Disregard Russia’s Blowout of Saudi Arabia in World Cup Opener

However, despite a lower FIFA ranking, all eyes were on Russia to win. They did, annihilating Saudi Arabia with a 5-0 victory. Many expected the Russians to take the first match — but the scoreline threw many soccer fans off.

Technically, if based on FIFA rankings, the underdog won.

Don’t disregard this match as a, “Oh, it’s just Saudi Arabia.” This was a test for the Russians and the team delivered. Now, it’s up to the members of the national team that make up the host nation to deliver two more times.

And potentially even further.

Russia’s Position

While it’s hard to talk about the group table with just one match played, Russia set themselves up for a lighter task. The win has garnered all three points, but the goals were even better.

Adding five goals helps in case of goal difference.

After what seemed like scoring their first two goals, Russia slowed down the pace in the second half. Yury Gazinsky and Dennis Cheryshev scored the opening goals for Russia. However, early in the second half, Russia featured more on the defensive front.

Artem Dzyuba then snuck one past Saudi goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf in the 71st minute, and Russia took off. Two stoppage time goals helped their campaign further, with a second from Cheryshev followed by a jaw-dropping set piece goal from Aleksandr Golovin.

Should Russia have to fight with Uruguay or Egypt for first or second place due to goal difference, the latter two teams have some catching up to do tomorrow.

Man of the Match

After the victory, Cheryshev was awarded the Man of the Match trophy.

In his 12th international appearance for Russia, Cheryshev not only scored a brace, but the first goal was his first international goal. Despite the accolade, Golovin was more deserving of the Man of the Match honors.

Not only did the 22-year-old who plays his club football for CSKA Moscow have a goal, he also had two assists. Golovin was all over the pitch for Russian head coach Stanislav Cherchesov, but he also had a number of good-looking crosses.

Where had Golovin been the last eight months when Russia couldn’t find a win? Today, he rose up to the occasion and helped his home nation out at the capital and in front of President Vladimir Putin.

The Super Substitutes

Fox Sports called them “not your average subs.”

That’s an understatement for Artem Dzyuba and Denis Cheryshev, who became the first substitutes ever in World Cup history to score in the opening match.

Cheryshev was brought in as an early substitute after Alan Dzagoev suffered a non-contact injury in the 24th minute. Russia, who already has a depleted roster with injuries, announced that Dzagoev “pre-injured muscles” in his hamstring.

“The timing of treatment will be determined based on the results of the forthcoming MRI,” the Russian National Team posted on their Instagram page. “Health, Alan!”

However, with Dzagoev out, Cheryshev has shown his capabilities in the midfield. He was paired up alongside Roman Zobnin and Gazinsky.

After the match, Cheryshev said that Team Russia just followed Cherchesov’s orders.

“Just tried to fulfill the requirements of the coach,” Cheryshev said. “Thank God everything worked out well!”

As for Dzyuba, the 29-year-old striker entered the match in the 70th minute for Fedor Smolov. Smolov had a decent day, finding the end of crosses, but not able to find the back of the net. He was whistled offside twice.

Meanwhile, Dzyuba scored on his first touch.

Head Turning Statistics

Despite what looked like Russian domination of Saudi Arabia, the possession was in favor of The Green Falcons.

Saudi Arabia finished the match with a 60-40 edge in possession. Despite this, the Saudis did not have a single shot on goal, with no pressure facing Russian goalkeeper — and captain — Igor Akinfeev.

Akinfeev will have to be perfect against Egypt and Uruguay for Russia to advance.

In total, Saudi Arabia only took six shots, while Russia attempted 13. Russia had seven shots on goal, forcing Al-Mayouf to make two saves.

What’s Next?

Russia’s next test won’t be a walk in the park.

The host nation will take on Egypt on Tuesday, June 19. The match is slated to begin at 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT.

Russia will get a sneak peek at their opponent tomorrow when Egypt faces Uruguay (8 a.m. ET/5 a.m. PT) in their first World Cup match since 1990.

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