Hosts Russia made a mockery of their low ranking by thrashing a hapless Saudi Arabia side 5-0 in the opening game of the 2018 FIFA World Cup at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on Thursday.
After a vibrant opening ceremony led by Robbie Williams had got the 78,011 crowd in attendance buzzing, the onus was on the players to deliver but from the off, it looked like only one team were up to the challenge.
Russia, the lowest ranked side in the tournament, swamped the Asian side from the kick off and made the most of their early dominance with a fine header from Yuri Gazinksiy in the 12th minute.
Aleksandr Golovin’s pace and guile was proving too much for the Saudis and even Alan Dzagoev’s unfortunate exit early didn’t hamper Russia’s swagger as they went 2-0 up two minutes from time with a cool finish from substitute Denis Cheryshev.
Igor Akinfeev was a virtual spectator in the Russian goal and while the away side did start to see more of the ball after the restart, with Golovin and Cheryshev running riot, only one team would be going home with three points on the night.
Substitute Artem Dzyuba proved to be a catalyst, scoring within a minute of coming on, with Golovin once again providing a pinpoint cross with less than 20 minutes left in the tie.
As the full-time whistle neared, the result was never in doubt but just as it looked like Russia would be taking the foot of their gas, Cheryshev came up with what could prove to be the goal of the tournament.
There appeared to be no danger when he got the ball on the edge of the box in the 91st minute, but his outside-of-the-boot strike that flew into the back of the net had the Saudi custodian grasping at air.
The hosts weren’t done yet and Golovin deservedly got his goal with a fine dead-ball strike in what was effectively the last kick of the game.
Granted, Saudi Arabia’s defence was found wanting more than once, but the goals still had to be scored and the hosts proved they aren’t participating just to make up the numbers with an imperious display even as the world watched with keen interest.