World Cup day 1 roundup: Russia puts doubts to rest with rout of Saudi Arabia

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What happened today

The 2018 World Cup opened today with an extravagant ceremony at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. Performers included English pop-star Robbie Williams and Russian soprano, Aida Garifullina. Brazilian soccer legend Ronaldo and FIFA president Gianni Infantino were among the attending soccer dignitaries. Russian president Vladimir Putin was on-hand to make opening remarks, welcoming fans to what he assured us would be an “open, hospitable and friendly” World Cup.

The tournament kicked off with Russia taking on Saudi Arabia in a one-sided affair that saw the host-nation put five unanswered goals past a hapless Saudi team. Yuri Gazinkskiy netted the first goal of the tournament, putting the hosts ahead by blasting a header past Saudi goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf in the 12th minute. Substitute Denis Cheryshev, who came on after Alan Dzaegoev was forced off with a hamstring injury, doubled the lead just before halftime, remaining composed under defensive pressure to blast a left-footer into the top of the net from inside the box.

Russia’s midfielder Aleksandr Golovin (C) vies with (fromL) Saudi Arabia’s midfielder Salman Al-Faraj, Saudi Arabia’s midfielder Taisir Al-Jassim and Saudi Arabia’s defender Mohammed Al-Breik during the Russia 2018 World Cup Group A football match between Russia and Saudi Arabia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on June 14, 2018. (Getty Images)
Russia’s midfielder Aleksandr Golovin (C) vies with (fromL) Saudi Arabia’s midfielder Salman Al-Faraj, Saudi Arabia’s midfielder Taisir Al-Jassim and Saudi Arabia’s defender Mohammed Al-Breik during the Russia 2018 World Cup Group A football match between Russia and Saudi Arabia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on June 14, 2018. (Getty Images)

After the break, Russia resumed where they’d left off, dominating proceedings and minimizing Saudi chances. Artem Dzyuba made it three for the hosts midway through the half, with a header to the bottom corner from inside the box. With the game already iced, Cheryshev put a cherry on top in extra time, firing an audacious shot with the outside of his foot from the edge of the box. Aleksandr Golovin capped off a Man of the Match performance with a finely curled free-kick over and around the Saudi defensive wall to make it 5-0, seconds before the final whistle.

Why it matters

It’s always good to open your tournament with a win, especially when you’re the host nation and there are serious questions about your ability to make it out of the group. But it might be too early for Russia fans to start pounding vodka shots. Saudi Arabia were frankly, awful, having failed to register a single shot on goal, despite dominating possession. Still, a plus-five goal differential could come in handy in a tight Group A where the hosts may end up slugging it out with Mo Salah’s Egypt for a passage to the next round.

Saudi Arabia’s tournament on the other hand, may be effectively over. Their next match is against South American heavyweights Uruguay and by the time they meet Egypt on matchday 3, they could easily find themselves with no points and a negative 10 goal differential. Russia on the other hand, have done a good job of keeping their hopes of progressing alive. If they can manage a result over Egypt on match-day 2, it may not even matter what happens when they face Luis Suarez’s Uruguay in their final group game.

GIF of the day

Russian president Vladimir Putin shrugs before greeting Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman at the 2018 World Cup.
Russian president Vladimir Putin shrugs before greeting Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman at the 2018 World Cup.

Tweet of the day

Goal of the day

Denis Cheryshev’s curling outside of the foot screamer from the edge of the box was the hands-down winner in the goal of the day stakes.

Injury report

If there is any sort of dark cloud for Russia following today’s rout, it could be concerns over the wellbeing of Alan Dzagoev. The midfielder drew up midway through the first half, clutching the back of his leg. The Russian Football Union later confirmed it was a hamstring injury and it seems doubtful that the CSKA Moscow man will be able to recover in time to continue his World Cup.

What happens next

The World Cup resumes tomorrow with a full slate of three matches. Egypt have been given a huge boost with the news that Mohamad Salah is likely to be fit for the tournament opener. The early match will see Salah’s Egypt taking on a star-studded Uruguay team that in addition to Suarez, features Paris Saint-Germain striker Edinson Cavani and standout Atletico Madrid defender Diego Godin.

In Group B action, African hopefuls Morocco will take on a talented Iran team in the second match of the day. But the big game comes in the third match when Iberian powerhouses Portugal and Spain go head to head in a match that could decide who tops the group. Spain were considered potential contenders to win the tournament just a few days ago, but their prospects have been thrown into disarray by the surprise sacking of their manager Julen Lopetegui earlier this week. Spanish FA Sporting Director Fernando Hierro is now in charge of the team and will face a stern test as he leads his side into battle against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal in the first truly heavyweight clash of the 2018 World Cup.

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