Russia 5 Saudi Arabia0
MOSCOW — Russia opened its World Cup on Thursday with a quick, energetic opening ceremony that featured a giant firebird made from crepe paper, English pop singer Robbie Williams flipping off the TV cameras, a lot of juggling and a speech from President Vladimir Putin.
Then Russia’s national team went out and provided an encore, riding two goals from Denis Cheryshev and single scores from Yury Gazinsky, Artem Dzuba and Roman Zobnin to a 5-0 win over Saudi Arabia before a crowd of 78,011 at Luzhniki Stadium.
Igor Akinfeev picked up the shutout in goal without making a save.
Russia — both the country and the team — made history just by showing up since this World Cup is the first to be played in Eastern Europe. They made some more history with the result, Russia’s first World Cup win in 16 years.
And the victory marked a big first step in what could be even more history since a win or draw in either of its next two games could carry Russia beyond the group stage for the first time since the breakup of the Soviet Union.
With Russia ranked 70th in the FIFA world rankings and Saudi Arabia at No. 67, Thursday’s game was the first World Cup opener to feature two countries ranked outside the top 30. But if the teams are nearly even in the rankings, they weren’t on the field, where Russia dominated.
The first goal of the World Cup went to Gazinsky in the 12th minute after he appeared to get his legs tangled with Saudi defender Taiseer Aljassam, sending Aljassam to the turf. That freed Gazinsky to head in a long, bending, right-footed cross from Aleksandr Golovin.
In a midfield luxury suite, squeezed between the stadium’s upper and lower bowls, Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, reached across FIFA president Gianni Infantino to congratulate Putin with a handshake.
Cheryshev doubled the lead just before the half after Saudi Arabia gave the ball away near midfield. Zobnin sent a through ball into the center of the penalty area for Cheryshev, who then dribbled toward the edge of the six-yard box. When Saudi defenders Omar Hawsawi and Mohammed Alburayk both went for slide tackles at the same time, the Russian flipped the ball over Alburayk, fended off a challenge from Aljassam and lifted a left-footed shot past goalkeeper Abdullah Almuaiouf at the near post.
Cheryshev, who as a member of Spanish club Villarreal is one of just two Russians playing outside the country’s domestic league, wouldn’t have even been on the field if Alan Dzagoev, the team’s creative midfielder, not pulled up with a left hamstring problem in the 23rd minute. He hobbled off the field between two trainers moments later and could be out for the tournament, which would be a major blow for the home team.
Dzyuba extended lead in the 71st minute, seconds after coming off the bench, by heading in another perfectly placed cross from Golovin. Cheryshev and Zobnin then closed out the scoring with stoppage-time goals, tying Russia’s record for its most one-sided win in a World Cup match.
Russia now has four days to prepare for its next game, with Egypt, which will go a long way toward deciding if the home team will continue making history.