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