Hosts Russia began their World Cup campaign perfectly with a convincing 5-0 victory over Saudi Arabia, the biggest win by a host nation in the opening game since 1934.
They opened the show with a bang, scoring through Yury Gazinsky – his first goal for Russia – after 12 minutes. Denis Cheryshev doubled the lead with a thunderous near post effort just before half time, and the Saudis proceeded to collapse after the break.
Artem Dzyuba added the third minutes after coming on to the pitch, whilst two more came in added time, through Cheryshev once again and an Aleksandr Golovin free kick, who had already registered two assists.
Most pre-match discussion centred around the lack of quality in both the Russian and Saudi Arabian squads. A dull, drab affair was expected, however, the Luzhniki Stadium played host to an intriguing 5-0 hammering as the hosts proved they had the most.
Were Russia that good? Or were Saudi Arabia that bad? Most importantly, what did we actually learn from it all?
1 Aleksandr Golovin is the real deal
Aleksandr Golovin is - along with Alan Dzagoev - one of Russia's only two creative outlets at this World Cup.
A damning review on the capabilities of the rest of the hosts' XI, perhaps, but we were able to sample some of Golovin's best work in the opening 90 minutes of the World Cup, despite it coming against a beleaguered Saudi Arabia outfit.
Aleksandr Golovin vs Saudi Arabia:
- 66 touches
- 25 passes
- 5 key passes
- 3 crosses
- 2 assists
- 1 goal
His two assists for the headed goals by Gazinskiy and Dzyuba displayed his vision and precision perfectly; his added time free-kick acted as the cherry on an already iced cake for the youngster.
Flamboyance and guile displayed by a midfielder seldom translates into hard work. This trend was bucked by Golovin, with the 21-year-old covering the most ground on the pitch at close to 13kms.
The true test of his mettle will come against Egypt and Uruguay, however, the potentially Premier League-bound star looks set to make his mark on this tournament.
2 Saudi Arabia are cute
We tend to categorise some lower-ranked sides at a World Cup into these boxes: dogged; determined; professional; direct.
Saudi Arabia were none of these things, playing - to their detriment - quite attractive football.
Small triangles of passes with good movement off the ball, Juan Antonio Pizzi's Green Falcons stuck stubbornly to their plan A.
KEY STAT: Saudi Arabia enjoyed 61% of possession, with 81% of their passes finding their intended target.
Looking to move up the pitch playing possession football, Russia found most of their joy in pressing the Saudi midfielders into mistakes. This, in turn, lead to goals, with Saudi Arabia's defence unable to show the strength needed to fend off attack after attack.
It's easy to commend Saudi Arabia's footballing philosophy, however, less so after getting tanked 5-0 by a team ranked below them.
3 Let's leave the opening ceremony to the Olympics
We've waited four years for this World Cup.
We could have waited another ten minutes without the distraction of Robbie Williams in a ladybird inspired suit, dancing on what appeared to be the set from the 1990s children's show Teletubbies.
The Brazilian Ronaldo looked pleased, but just as confused, to be sewn into the ceremony as he high-fived the mascot that no one will remember from this tournament.
It didn't make sense.
Have an hour-long ceremony dedicating time to displaying all 32 nations, or, nothing. I choose the latter.
4 VAR will be a continuing theme at the World Cup
We wondered how long it would be until VAR sparked a debate at this year's World Cup. The answer was: 37 minutes.
Smolov led a Russian counter as he slid the ball into Golovin's path inside the penalty area. Moments from pulling the trigger, Osama Hawsawi made an inch-perfect tackle on Golovin, stealing the ball from his toes.
Golovin wanted a penalty. The referee refused, claiming it was a clean tackle, however, half-time debates questioned whether Hawsawi actually got a ball or the player.
Former referee and now VAR expert Mark Clattenburg suggested that Hawsawi didn't get the ball, but that it wasn't a penalty either, as the intention to foul wasn't there and Golovin initiated contact.
Confusion ensued as to whether VAR was used, should have been used, could have been used, and whether it would have made a blind bit of difference.
Let's hope that after a tournament of VAR use we are all a lot clearer on its rules and implications.
5 The tournament's happiness is safe... for now
Ignore the politics.
If we are strictly talking football, then nobody really wants to see the hosts get beat early on.
It's far too early to assume they will escape their tricky Group A, however, a 5-0 win for a host nation secures the happiness of the tournament as a whole for at least a week.
The reluctance of interest for travelling fans to attend this World Cup has been well-documented, but for now: happy Russia = happy World Cup life.
What did you learn from this opening fixture? Comment below...
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Group A in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.
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