AGONAsport FIFA World Cup Recap, Day 1: Hosts Get The Party Started
AGONAsport’s George Tsitsonis recaps the action from Day 1 of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
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The 2018 World Cup opened up on Thursday with hosts Russia taking on Saudi Arabia in Group A. The Russians were painted by many as a below-par side who would struggle to advance to the knockout rounds.
However, it was Stanislav Cherchesov’s men who set this tournament alight from the start as they cruised to an emphatic 5-0 victory. It was a dream start at the Luzhniki Stadium for the home team as Yuri Gazinsky opened the scoring with a header after just 12 minutes. Just before the break, substitute Denis Cherysev fired home from close range to make it 2-0.
Russia controlled proceedings after the break and any lingering hopes of a Saudi comeback were extinguished on 71 minutes when Artem Dzyuba’s header made it 3-0.
Cherysev secured his brace in injury time with a sensational outside of the left foot finish from outside the area and teammate Aleksandr Golovin added further gloss to the scoreline with a fantastic free-kick as the Luzhniki became a carnival atmosphere. For the Saudis it was a nightmare start, but for Russia it was a statement of intent. The hosts are not going to be pushovers and they have already built a wave of momentum.
Match Rating: 6 - Not a drab encounter by any means, but for the neutral the sizable difference in quality made the opener underwhelming. Some great goals though by Russia.
No specific Greek link to either of these teams, but one Greek tie-in we must mention. Cherysev’s first goal was only the fifth time a substitute has managed to score in the first half at a World Cup. The last player to do so? Greece’s Andreas Samaris. The Benfica man came on for Panagiotis Kone in the 12th minute of the team’s last Group Stage match at the 2014 World Cup against Ivory Coast. Samaris gave Greece the lead after 42 minutes.
GOAL OF THE DAY - Denis Cherysev (Russia)
Golovin’s free-kick was awesome, but Cherysev’s second in this match was simply too special to be denied. Picking up a ball outside the box, Cherysev’s first touch set up a sumptuous half volley shot with the outside of his left foot that gave Abdullah Al Muaoiouf no chance in the Saudi Arabia goal. A strike you could just watch over and over again.
Few would have foreseen this Russian performance. A strong display, though the caveat is that Saudi Arabia looked so weak at the back. Stiffer tests to come for the hosts against Uruguay and Egypt, but a fine start to their campaign and for the World Cup overall. For Juan Antonio Pizzi’s men, the World Cup already looks like an exercise in damage limitation.
ON DECK FOR TOMORROW
The tournament really gets going on Day 2 with three matches slated in Groups A and B. Egypt and Uruguay face off in Ekaterinburg in what appears to be a very tasty affair. After that, Morocco and Iran begin Group B proceedings in a game both sides will believe they must win. Then the tournament’s first major match-up pits Portugal against Spain, a derby rich in history and also surrounding by all sorts of news in recent days concerning the sacking of Julen Lopetegui.