World Cup recap: Russia starts the party with 5-0 thrashing of Saudi Arabia

The World Cup opened on Thursday. Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

The 2018 FIFA World Cup kicked off on Wednesday with a five-goal performance from the host nation Russia. Day one of activities began with the opening ceremony - which left plenty for social media to talk about - and the first match of the month-long tournament.

Opening Ceremony

If you didn’t know of English pop star Robbie Williams, chances are you either found out today by watching on TV or seeing posts on social media of him flipping the middle finger to begin his 15-minute pre-match concert. The performance also featured flags of the 32 teams in the competition with appearances by former World Cup winners in Brazil’s Ronaldo and Spain’s Iker Casillas. The end of the ceremony featured welcome speeches from Russian President Vladimir Putin and FIFA President Gianni Infantino.

Russia 5-0 Saudi Arabia
Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow

Attendance: 78,011

It was a pleasant surprise to kick off the tournament with a five-goal thriller from the host country. Neither Russia nor Saudi Arabia were really expected to generate a lot of attack due to their lack of talent, so a much more defensive game was expected. Both teams were clumsy in the opening minutes before Iury Gazinsky sent the home crowd into a frenzy with the opening goal off a header in the 12th minute of play. The hosts were then forced to make a substitution in the 24th minute when midfielder Alan Dzagoev suffered a hamstring injury while pushing forward in attack. The change actually gave the team a boost offensively as it prompted Denis Cheryshev, who plays in Spain’s La Liga, to take the field. He became the first substitute to score in an World Cup opening match (43’) with his individual play inside the box that gave Russia a 2-0 lead at halftime.

Needing to push for a result, Saudi Arabia pressed higher and looked more organized to start the second half. They actually finished the match leading in possession and passes but could never do anything concrete, generating only three shots (all off-target) all game. Daler Kuziaev became the second substitute to score in an World Cup opener with his header in the 71st minute. Cheryshev would then find the back of the net again with a stunner inside the box in the 91st minute. Russia would finish with a 5-0 victory after Aleksandr Golovin converted off a free-kick in the 94th minute.

Analysis: This match was an important one for both countries as it was their best opportunity for three points with Egypt and Uruguay also in their group. With only the top two going through to the knockout round, three points were almost a must here to survive - a draw would do very little since it would complicate things with only one point in hand. In Russia’s case, it officially kicked off the party with a win and relieved tensions by breaking a seven-match winless streak. This loss is a heartbreaker for Saudi Arabia because it virtually eliminates them unless they can somehow miraculously silence some of the world’s most prolific goalscorers in Egypt’s Mohamed Salah and Uruguay’s Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani.

Notable Stat: Host countries remain unbeaten in the opening match of the FIFA World Cup (16 wins, 6 draws, 0 losses)

Upcoming Matches (All Times CT):

Friday, June 15

7 a.m. - [Group A] Egypt vs. Uruguay (FS1, Telemundo)

10 a.m. - [Group B] Morocco vs. Iran (FOX, Telemundo)

1 p.m. - [Group B] Portugal vs. Spain (FOX, Telemundo)

ESPN 97.5 will be hosting a World Cup Watch Party and broadcasting LIVE from Nick’s Place (2713 Rockyridge Dr, Houston, TX 77063) on Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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Boston's two grand slams in the first two innings were too much for Houston to overcome in ALCS Game 2. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After a win in ALCS Game 1 that had the prototypical fingerprints of this Astros team all over it, Houston returned to Minute Maid Park on Saturday, hoping to take a dominant 2-0 series lead if they could grab another victory. The Red Sox dashed those hopes very early, though, scoring eight runs across the first two innings to build the lead they would hold on to even the series.

Final Score: Boston 9, Astros 5

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): tied 1-1

Winning Pitcher: Nathan Eovaldi

Losing Pitcher: Luis Garcia

Houston met with disaster to start Game 2

You couldn't have drawn up a much better start for the Red Sox or a worse one for the Astros in Saturday's ALCS Game 2. Luis Garcia met early disaster in the top of the first inning, allowing a leadoff double, then got two outs while issuing two walks to load the bases. That brought up Boston's designated hitter, J.D. Martinez, to the plate, and he delivered a crushing blow to Houston, launching a grand slam to put the Red Sox up 4-0 before Houston could even get to the plate.

After a scoreless bottom of the inning by his offense, things got worse for Garcia in the top of the second, as after issuing a four-pitch walk to start the frame, he would become the center of a meeting at the mound with trainers, ultimately leaving the game with an injury. Houston opted to bring in Jake Odorizzi for the emergency call to the bullpen, but things did not start well for him either. He would put two of his own batters on base with two singles, then gave up the second grand slam in as many innings, this one to Rafael Devers to double Boston's lead to 8-0, doubling down on Houston's disastrous start to the game.

Odorizzi rebounded with a 1-2-3 third, but with one out in the top of the fourth allowed a solo homer to Kiké Hernández, his third homer of the series so far. He would still get the job done of eating up a few innings, finishing the fourth, and retiring Boston in order in the fifth, giving Houston just four more innings to cover with the rest of their relievers.

Astros get a few runs back

Over that span, Houston did trim the lead by three runs, getting an RBI double by Kyle Tucker and a two-RBI single by Yuli Gurriel in the bottom of the fourth, making it a six-run game at 9-3. Their next reliever was Blake Taylor in the top of the sixth, and he would keep the score where it stood by sitting down the three batters he faced that frame.

The Astros threatened again in the bottom of the sixth, getting two singles to put two aboard, but would come out empty, sending the game on to the seventh, where Taylor would remain on the mound. He faced three more batters, getting two out while allowing a single before Yimi Garcia would come in to get the third out.

Red Sox even the series as it shifts to Boston

Garcia returned in the top of the eighth, getting through that inning despite a walk and hit by pitch, stranding both runners. Boston's bullpen kept Houston from getting any closer in the bottom of the eighth, then Ryne Stanek came in for the Astros in the top of the ninth. Stanek allowed a leadoff double, but with a groundout and double play, held the score at 9-3. Yuli Gurriel and Jason Castro did their part to keep the Astros alive in the bottom of the ninth, each hitting solo homers to make it 9-5, but that's as close as they'd come, dropping Game 2 to tie the series at one game apiece.

Up Next: The ALCS now moves to Boston for the next three games after a day off on Sunday, with Game 3 on Monday at 7:08 PM Central. While the Astros have named Jose Urquidy as their starter, the Red Sox have not yet determined theirs.

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