REPORT: Russia 5 Saudi Arabia 0

Russia avoided becoming the first host nation to lose the opening match of a World Cup as they thrashed Saudi Arabia at the Luzhniki Stadium on Thursday.

The game, between the two lowest ranked teams in the tournament, began at a surprisingly high intensity with both sides enjoying plenty of the ball in attacking areas, however, it was not long before the hosts took a hold of the game.

Aleksandr Golovin was presented with the first opening of the game but his 11th minute snapshot was blocked behind for a corner.

Russia did take the lead from the resulting set-piece, though, as Iury Gazinsky headed in Golovin’s cross at the far post after their opponents had failed to clear.

Saudi Arabia were lucky to not be two behind minutes later when Fedor Smolov flicked full-back Mario Fernandes’ cutback goal-bound, but Abdullah Al-Muaiouf scrambled across to palm the ball away to safety.

The Russians did double their lead on the stroke of half-time, though, through substitute Denis Cheryshev. A quick counter attack saw the ball worked across to the Villarreal winger, who put two defenders on the deck with an impressive first touch before lashing the ball into the roof of the net.

The closest Saudi Arabia came to reducing the deficit was via a dangerous Mohammed Al-Burayk cross in the 56th minute. However, neither Mohammed Al-Sahlawi nor Taiseer Al-Jassam could make contact as the ball flashed across the face of goal.

1966 semi-finalists Russia continued to look the most likely to score next and Roman Zobnin drew a shaky save from Al-Muaiouf with a low shot in the 68th minute.

Their lead was increase just moments later, though, when on-loan Arsenal Tula striker Artem Dzyuba headed another Golovin cross into the bottom corner just seconds after entering play.

Stanislav Cherchesov’s men added real gloss to the score line by adding a further two goals in stoppage time. The first a stunning outside of the boot effort from Cheryshev as he latched onto Dzyuba’s knockdown before scoring from the edge of the box.

The impressive Golovin made it 5-0 in the 94th minute with a dipping free-kick from 20 yards out to send his side top of Group A ahead of fixtures against Egypt and Uruguay.

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