DOWNLOAD HIGHLIGHTS: Russia 5 – 0 Saudi Arabia [2018 World Cup Highlights]
Denis Cheryshev scored a brace and Aleksandr Golovin starred as Russia kicked off their first home World Cup with a rampant 5-0 Group A win over a lacklustre Saudi Arabia side in Moscow.
Yuri Gazinskiy and Cheryshev struck first-half goals to open their international accounts at Luzhniki Stadium, Artem Dzyuba adding a third 89 seconds after his introduction as a second-half replacement, but an injury to star man Alan Dzagoev will cause concern for Russia.
Dzagoev hurt his hamstring in the opening period and could be a doubt for the rest of the tournament, depending on the results of a scan.
Gazinskiy headed in Golovin’s cross to score the first goal of the 2018 event, with Dzagoev’s replacement Cheryshev lashing in the second before the interval.
Russia started the World Cup as the lowest-ranked team in the tournament but the hosts were a class above Saudi Arabia, Dzyuba’s header stretching the lead in the 71st minute.
Cheryshev showed he could be the man to fill Dzagoev’s shoes with a fantastic injury-time goal, finding the top corner with a sublime shot with the outside of his left boot, before Golovin bent in a brilliant free-kick to finish the match in style.
Juan Antonio Pizzi’s men struggled to create a chance of note, failed to record a shot on target and gave away possession on countless occasions, enabling Russia to record their first World Cup win since 2002.
Russia took the lead in the 12th minute with the first shot on target of the World Cup.
Golovin kept a cleared corner alive and delivered a floated cross to the back post, with Gazinskiy exploiting slack Saudi marking to plant a firm header past Abdullah Al-Mayoof.
But there was a major blow for the hosts mid-way through the half as star playmaker Dzagoev limped off with a suspected hamstring injury, to be replaced by Cheryshev.
Russia had a penalty appeal turned down in the 35th minute, but Saudi captain Osama Hawsawi got enough on the ball when he challenged Golovin to avoid censure from VAR.
Stanislav Cherchesov’s side did not let Dzagoev’s injury affect them and they scored the second goal their enterprising play deserved three minutes before the break.
After a fine team move, Roman Zobnin slipped the ball to the former Real Madrid winger, who evaded a pair of poor challenges in the box before slamming an unstoppable finish into the roof of the net.
Salman Al Faraj headed a decent chance over the crossbar as Saudi Arabia sought a reply after the interval.
But Russia’s win was all but sealed in the 71st minute with Golovin again the creator, the CSKA Moscow midfielder producing a lovely centre from the right that allowed Dzyuba to nod in within two minutes of his introduction.
Russia were not done and two terrific injury-time strikes fired a message to Group A rivals Egypt and Uruguay, who meet on Friday.
Cheryshev was a threat throughout and he hit an early contender for goal of the tournament with a brilliant strike that gave helpless Al-Mayoof no chance.
And the Saudi goalkeeper was beaten again in the fourth minute of stoppage-time, Golovin adding to his two assists with a curling free-kick that left brought the home fans to their feet once again.
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