FIFA World Cup opens with a five star showing from the hosts.
After an opening ceremony featuring Robbie Williams, a glittery jacket and looking as if it would be the kind of thing you could catch off a pier in Blackpool, the opening game of the 2018 FIFA World Cup did not disappoint in terms of excitement. Russia had not won in seven matches, a grand total of eight months and twelve months with no clean sheet to show the Ruskies decided to show up in front of a bumper crowd of just over 78,000 and a watching President. Goals came as always, like London buses. No host nation has lost an opening game at a world cup. It remains that way twenty-two games down now.
The question of the overall quality on show at the Luzhniki Stadium, will have to wait to be answered another day, for Russia at least. I think it’s fair to say the Saudi’s won’t need to extend their hotel reservations and could more than likely leave their clothes in suitcases, such was the ineptitude displayed by them. Bert Van Marwiijk may just have got away at the right time with his reputation. Saudi Arabia have had thirteen managers in ten years, not exactly a show of consistency.
This is not a tough group by any means and this match featured the two lowest ranked sides in the tournament, but as is often the case bad sides can provide the biggest entertainment value.
The game started at a very high tempo both sides allowing each other far too much space and time on the ball with the Russians looking the most dangerous, especially from the wider areas. The Saudi Arabia keeper looked shockingly bad, with Uruguay featuring Suarez and Cavani and Egypt with Salah still to come, he might just be picking the ball out the net a few more times before boarding that early flight home.
Russia got the reward their play had merited and the first goal of the 2018 FIFA World Cup after only twelve minutes when Gazinsky headed home his first goal for his country, all this despite more than a hint of a push. Not that I am accusing anyone of favouring the host nation, we have never seen that previously in a World Cup. The goal was allowed to stand despite the VAR system being in place.
Russia’s dominance continued, and they were very much on top, even getting the benefit of a decision from the video referee on a challenge that could have led to a penalty, one I happened to agree with. The video referee has every angle available to him, and this did not appear a clear and obvious error. I am had been a critic and sceptic of the system but it worked well in this occasion.
Unsurprisingly enough, and as predicted in my preview show, Russia ended the match without key man (The man made of glass) Dzagoev, but I suppose if he has to miss one fixture this would have been the one hand-picked. The true severity of his injury yet unknown at my time of writing. His replacement was to prove more than adequate, giving the Russians a two nil lead before the break with a blistering finish, following some neat play. The defending was highly questionable, from a Russian standpoint however it gave some breathing space and some much-needed confidence.
After the restart the tempo dropped like a stone the game failed to recapture the frantic pace of the first half and Saudi Arabia had a great chance on fifty-six minutes, one they just couldn’t connect or take advantage of. Maybe showing up some of that Russian defensive fragility I previously highlighted in my preview article.
Seventy-one minutes gone and it was another Russian sub who headed home Dzyuba, finding himself unmarked in the centre of the goal to take full advantage of more sloppy defending. By this stage Mexican waves were in full flow, never a good sign of quality match I think.
By now the Saudis had all but given up. The Russians made it four in added time, a long ball played up field to Cheryshev, scoring his second of the game. Take nothing away from the finish it was of the highest quality. Coming courtesy of the outside of his right boot, is weaker foot seemingly, from outside the area. It was sublime.
Russia then added a fifth courtesy of a well taken free kick by Golovin, the goal may just prove vital in the Russians quest to top the group later on this tournament, but I just can’t feel Russia will not get the time and space allowed and allotted to them in future matches and let’s be honest stiffer tests will await. The Russian keeper could have sat in the stand with Putin and nobody would have noticed.
As opening games go it was fun, if not of the best overall standard, but as a Scotsman, with no dog in the fight as you will, I enjoyed it very much.
Maybe Russia have more about them than several people, their President included think or this might just be a false dawn, only time and more games will tell us all.
What did you make of the opening game? I would love to hear from you get in touch.