World Cup hosts Russia kicked off their Group A campaign in style with a 5-0 win over Saudi Arabia on Thursday.
No host team has lost a World Cup opening match and Russia kept up that tradition with goals from Yury Gazinsky (12), Denis Cheryshev (43, 90+1), Artem Dzyuba (71) and Aleksandr Golovin (90+3).
It leaves Stanislav Cherchesov’s men with confidence ahead of testing fixtures against Egypt and Uruguay as they aim to uphold the record of hosts at major international tournaments – 20 of 21 host teams have progressed from their group.
For Saudi Arabia, there was not much to cling to as they looked very lightweight and tactically naive – it could be a long few weeks for The Green Falcons, who did not register a shot on target.
Stanislav Cherchesov’s team had not won in their past seven matches and had been criticised from all sides, including a series of barbed comments from Russian president Vladimir Putin.
But in front of a largely partisan crowd of 78,011 at the Luzhniki Stadium they never looked in danger against a naïve Green Falcons’ side that seemed only too willing to gift possession to their opponents.
Thursday’s match was crucial for each side’s aspirations of qualifying from the group and the result leaves Juan Antonio Pizzi’s Saudi Arabia with a huge task in front of them.