SOCCER MATTERS

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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Another win for the Coogs! Photo by Getty Images.

The Cougars were supposed to play a game in Tampa against The University of South Florida on Jan. 14th, but this contest was postponed due to positive COVID-19 tests and contact tracing within the USF program. Houston was able to take advantage of the extra time off to rest their players and prepare for their next game against UCF.

Their previous game against the Knights in Orlando on December 26th was a close matchup which saw UCF and the Cougars tied at halftime. The second half was a back-and-fourth contest between the two teams, but Houston was able to come away with a nine point victory.

This game however was nowhere near as close and their previous meeting.

Houston immediately got off to a 12-0 start thanks to four straight 3-pointers from DeJon Jarreau (2x), Marcus Sasser & Quentin Grimes.

The Cougars continued to surge past the knights and at one point led 38-9 with 3:43 left to go in the contest.

Houston led 45-19 at halftime, their largest first half lead of the season.

The Cougars were able to maintain their commanding lead with both efficient scoring early on and elite level defense. Houston forced UCF to commit 20 turnovers that resulted in 22 points for the Cougars.

The Cougars won most of their games this season with commanding defense, dominating the boards and superior guard play. All three boxes were checked as Houston was able to secure a 75-58 victory.

UCF did outscore Houston in the second half 39-30, but the Cougars' lead proved to be an insurmountable obstacle to overcome for the Knights. Essentially, Houston was on cruse control the second half of the game and never saw their lead drop below double digits.

Grimes scored in double figures for his 11th straight game after opening the season with eight points against Lamar. Senior forward Justin Gorham scored a season high 15 points as well.

Houston has now won its fourth straight game since its loss to Tulsa and now remain in sole position of 1st place in the AAC.

The Cougars moved up from No.11 to the 8th ranked team in the country as multiple top-ranked teams suffered losses over the week.

Kelvin Sampson passed former Houston coach Tom Penders as he earned his 650th career win. This also moves him into sole possession of 41st place on the NCAA wins list. He is also the second winningest coach in Houston Cougars Men's Basketball history behind only the great Guy Lewis.

UP NEXT: Houston looks to exact revenge against the only team to defeat them this season as they host Tulsa at the Fertitta Center on Wednesday at 7pm.

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