Defying criticism from all quarters, Russia announced themselves in front of some 75,000 fans immediately after Robbie Williams finished singing ‘Let Me Entertain’.
Screaming in disbelief, the fans waved the Russian tricolour on their way out. Their joy knew no bounds after their newfound belief in the national team. The volunteers, who only had a polite hello to offer, all of a sudden looked animated and showed the fans the way out with beaming smiles. The exchange between the fans and the volunteers also picked up several decibels.
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Yuri Gazinsky broke the shackles and Denis Cheryshev provided the escape velocity to the usually sedate Russians, fed on a steady diet of Dostoyevsky and Mayakovsky.
Cheryshev walked in to the public consciousness in 2015 when he got Real Madrid disqualified from the Spanish Cup. A left winger with decent pace, Cheryshev’s promise was noticed early and got to learn his tricks at the Real Madrid training school.
On the biggest match on home soil, the 27-year-old winger gave the Russians a reason to talk about his goal for years to come. As Cheryshev picked up the ball on the left side of the Saudi penalty area, defenders Mohammad Al-Breik and Omar Hawsawi walked into the trap allowing the substitute to create space and rifle a shot into the roof of the net.
Things got difficult for Stanislav Cherchesov when Alan Dzagoev, the star of the team, pulled his hamstring. Cheryshev was called upon early to replace the luckless Dzagoev. It turned out to be Cherchesov’s first inspired substitution.
Yuri Gazinsky nodded in the opening goal in the 12th as the hosts got off to a flier, sending warnings to Uruguay and Egypt, expected to be advancing from the group. As the Russians marched towards the break, Cheryshev’s goal brought the home fans to their feet. They didn’t know till then what sport of a feast was in store.
Cheryshev’s second gifted a piece of magic to the World Cup history. He sent the ball high past Al-Mayouf with his outside left boot from the left of the area after another substitute Artem Dzyuba set him up. Dzyuba, another substitute, scored within minutes of his introduction with a header. To complete the rout and round off a beautiful evening in Moscow, Aleksandr Golovin’s sublime free-kick during added on time made it a resounding 5-0 victory.
Unable to find their feet, Saudi Arabia showed they are not here to belong. Salem Aldawsari’s long range effort, after substitute Artem Dzyuba headed in the third for the Russians, was more of a frustrated attempt of the defeated.
Having finished fourth in England in 1966 and fifth four years later, the Russians have had a strong history to fall back on. With the World Cup coming home, it is unlikely that the Russians will give way without a fight when the battles are being fought on their own soil.