Russia launched the World Cup party in spectacular style when they thrashed a feeble Saudi Arabia 5-0 in the tournament’s opening match on Thursday to give the host nation the lift they desperately needed after a nine-month winless run.
Substitute Denis Cheryshev scored two brilliant goals after Yury Gazinsky had headed the WorldCup’s first after 12 minutes.
Artem Dzyuba was also on target a minute after coming on as a 70th-minute substitute and Aleksandr Golovin completed a memorable day by smashing in a free kick with the last action of the game.
The result equalled the best in a World Cup opening game – Brazil beat Mexico 5-0 in Geneva in 1954 – and watching Russian President Vladimir Putin wasted no time in phoning coach Stanislav Cherchesov to congratulate him.
“We are not getting ahead of ourselves. We saw that we are on the right track but we should forget this game and concentrate on the next one,” Cherchesov said after ending a seven-game winless run in emphatic style.
Constantly criticised in the ragged build-up games, Cherchesov had promised improvement once the phoney war was over and his energetic players duly delivered.
“We were tighter, more disciplined, more mature,” he said. “To be good is one thing, to be good at the right time in the right place is another.”
It also helps if you are facing a team who have now lost eight and drawn two of their last 10 WorldCup matches, whose defending fell painfully short of World Cup standard and whose attack was non-existent.
Coach Juan Antonio Pizzi does not speak any Arabic but it will not take long for them to become aware of his Spanish description of their performance as shameful.
Russia’s fans, forced to suffer years of poor performances in friendlies that left their team an embarrassing 70th in the world rankings will not care about the quality of the opponents.
But they will be aware that the Asian qualifiers look desperately ill-equipped to trouble Egypt or group favourites Uruguay, who meet tomorrow, and that there is still much to be done for the hosts to secure progress to the knockout stage.
Russia looked more purposeful from the start as they poured into the vast spaces on both flanks and it was no surprise when they opened the scoring after 12 minutes as Gazinsky was left unmarked to nod home Golovin’s deep left-wing cross.
Alan Dzagoev had been at the heart of things in their midfield promptings but had to go off after pulling a hamstring in the 23rd minute. Cherchesov said later that his tournament might be over but one man’s misfortune is another’s opportunity as his replacement Cheryshev doubled the lead with a mesmerising touch of skill.
Collecting a pass from Roman Zobnin on the left of the box he showed great composure to nonchalantly dink the ball inches above two prone defenders desperately sliding in, before lashing into the roof of the net.
Russia made it 3-0 in the 71st minute when Golovin chipped in a cross for giant striker Dzyuba to rise and head in from close range.
The crowd were then treated to a fabulous finale as Cheryshev cleverly rifled home an unstoppable curving fourth with the outside of his foot before Golovin capped a great personal performance by curling his free kick beyond the wall.
Russia can now prepare to face Egypt next week full of confidence while Saudi Arabia need to find instant improvement if they are to avoid further embarrassment against Uruguay.