The host nation, Russia, opened the 2018 World Cup in spectacular fashion with a comprehensive thrashing of Saudi Arabia by five goals to nil. In the 12th minute, Yuri Gazinsky scored a header to which Saudi Arabia had no answer.
It was a match for the record books too, with Russia’s second, third and fourth goals all by substitutes: one by Artem Dzyuba and two by Denis Cheryshev. The final goal came in the last minutes of the extra time when Aleksandr Golovin drove a free kick past an exhausted and despondent Saudi defense.
The Saudi's gameplan was to work the counterattack but, once Gazinsky's header hit the back of the net, it became clear very quickly that they were no match for the Russians – keeping in mind that Russia has been out of form of late. The Saudi's rarely got the ball deep into Russia’s territory and found themselves falling foul to their own counterattacking strategy.
Russia's biggest worry of the night was not their opponents but rather an apparent hamstring injury to midfielder Alan Dzagoev. This misfortune did a 180 turn when substitute, Cheryshev, scored just moments after running on the field.
By the halfway mark the Saudis already looked defeated, and they never recovered. Dzyuba scored on another header, likewise just after entering the game, Cheryshev added his second in the 90th minute and Goliovin added No. 5 on a free kick in injury time.
Saudi's Manager, Juan Antonio Pizzi, said “I think that a poor performance explains the result,” adding, “As for our strategy, we must change.”
As much as it was the perfect start for Russia, their remaining group games against Egypt and Uruguay will be much tougher challenges.
“Egypt will be a different game, city and stadium,” said Manager Stanislav Cherchesov. “We need to meticulously prepare ourselves.”
As for Saudi Arabia, based on this performance, it's highly likely they won't keep a clean sheet for the remainder of what will probably be a very short World Cup for them.