World Cup hosts Russia opened the tournament in grand style at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on Thursday evening, as they thrashed Saudi Arabia 5-0.
Stanislav Cherchesov’s side powered to the top of Group A thanks to goals from Yury Gazinskiy, Aleksandr Golovin, Denis Cheryshev and Artem Dzyuba – with the latter both scoring as substitutes.
Russia started strongly and needed only 12 minutes to claim the lead, with Aleksandr Golovin’s in-swinging cross finding the head of Yury Gazinskiy, who directed his effort beyond the reach of goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf to make it 1-0.
The hosts suffered a major blow just before the midway point of the first half, with key attacking midfielder Alan Dzagoev pulling up with a hamstring injury while sprinting toward goal on a counter attack. He was replaced by Denis Cheryshev in the 24th minute.
The substitute added energy and pace to Russia’s attack, and in the 42nd minute he showed great composure in the penalty area to dummy two defenders before firing a left-footed effort into the top corner to see the home side 2-0 up at the break.
Saudi Arabia had offered little threat in the first half, but in the 11th minute of the second they almost pulled a goal back, with striker Mohammed Al-Sahlawi getting onto a right-wing cross and seeing his effort flash across the face of goal.
Yet any hope the Asian side had of a comeback went up in smoke in the 71st minute when another substitute, Artem Dzyuba, got on the end of a cross from Golovin and headed Russia into a 3-0 lead with virtually his first touch of the game.
Cheryshev and Golovin added the cherry on top for Russia with two sublime strikes in injury time to wrap up the game at 5-0 – the former sent a curling effort from the outside of his left foot into the top corner, while the latter netted direct from a free kick.
Russia will return to action next week Tuesday, June 19, when they take on Egypt in Saint Petersburg, while Saudi Arabia will play their second game the following day, when they battle Uruguay in Rostov-on-Don.