The 2018 World Cup in Russia is off the mark following a surprising 5-0 win for the host nation against Saudi Arabia. The opening fixture was a shocking display of talent from a Russian side that no-one was willing to give a chance at the start of the tournament and a shocking display of a lack of talent from the Saudi Arabians. Every single player in a Russian shirt was superb on the opening day, but the man who ran the show was none other than 22-year CSKA Moscow midfielder Aleksandr Golovin.
Here are the three key performers in Russia’s stunning 5-0 victory.
Aleksandr Golovin has attracted the interest of the likes of Manchester United and AS Roma in recent months and with his display in Russia’s opening match, it is easy to see why. The central midfielder was absolutely everywhere on Thursday, running from back to front, box to box and putting in pass after pass to set his teammates in on goal. One of those many key passes assisted Yuri Gazinskiy for the tournament’s opening goal. Later on, he grabbed himself another assist by whipping in the perfect ball for strongman Artem Dzyuba on Russia’s third. To cap off his brilliant performance, Golovin showed his class in the final minutes of the game by scoring an unstoppable free kick from the top of the 18-yard box. Saudi Arabia just could not get a hold of Aleksandr Golovin on Thursday and the CSKA Moscow superstar is the main reason why Russia were able to win their opening match by such a comfortable margin.
When Alan Dzagoev went off injured in just the 23rd minute of the game, the assumption was that his injury could be tournament altering for the host nation. Dzagoev is one of Russia’s key figures and supreme goal providers. However, when Denis Cheryshev came into the match in his place, Russia were a completely different outfit. Golovin used the move to get even further forward and Cheryshev went on to score two fantastic goals, running up and down the line like he’d been waiting to take the opportunity his entire life. The former Real Madrid winger ran circles around Saudi Arabia’s defense and the energy and attacking verve he provided propelled Russia to go on and achieve greatness. The 27-year old only scored two goals in his 24 La Liga appearances this season for Villarreal so the fact that he matched that in one single match on the biggest world stage was incredible to watch. Cheryshev changed the match on Thursday and without his two fantastic strikes, the Russians would not have achieved such a fantastic opening result.
Although only featuring in the final thirty minutes of the match, Artem Dzyuba’s role in Russia’s 5-0 victory was immense. The big centre forward scored just minutes after coming onto the pitch after Golovin whipped in the perfect pass and then later the scorer turned provider as he set up speedy winger Denis Cheryshev for the game’s fourth goal of the night. Although their performances were commendable, Aleksandr Samedov and Fedor Smolov both struggled to make that same level of impact and Russian manager Stanislav Cherchesov may just as well go with Dzyuba up top on Tuesday when his team take on Egypt.
Honourable Mentions: Mario Fernandes, Yuri Zhirkov, Roman Zobnin, Yuri Gazinskiy
So there you have it. The World Cup is off the mark with a shocking 5-0 victory for Russia over Saudi Arabia. With the promise that the likes of Golovin, Cheryshev and Dzyuba showed in the opening match, the Russians could be set to make a surprise run in the tournament and with just one more win will be into the knockout round. Thanks for reading and see you next time.