MOSCOW – With Russian President Vladimir Putin watching, the national team opened the World Cup with a 5-0 rout of Saudi Arabia in a match between the lowest-ranked teams in the tournament.
Despite widespread pessimism across the nation, Russia opened the 2018 World Cup with a huge 5-0 win over Saudi Arabia in front of a packed Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on Thursday.
It was a significant win for the Russians, who boosted their chances of progressing to the round of 16 with the lopsided victory.
The Russian pressing
That defensive commitment from the attackers exemplified Russia’s tactical game plan. One of the team’s supposed weaknesses entering the World Cup was its defence due to rampant injuries. The centre-back depth was so thin that 38-year-old Sergei Ignashevich had to come out of international retirement.
However, thanks to the Russian’s pressing from the midfield and forwards, Ignashevich and Ilya Kutepov – who only has eight caps for Russia – were barely tested.
Saudi Arabia only completed 73 per cent of their passes and did not have a single shot on target. Russia won an astounding 80 duels, most of them in the middle third or final third. Those recoveries eventually led to the hosts’ first four goals.
It will be a much stiffer test against a taller side like Uruguay, who can beat that press with a more direct style of play. Saudi Arabia is the shortest team at the tournament, so it will be intriguing to see if it pays off against the Uruguayans.
The overall tournament atmosphereTypically, when the host nation performs well and the fans are optimistic, the tournament benefits as a whole.
That’s why this win was vital for Russia. There was low confidence in the national team due to injuries and coach Stanislav Cherchesov experimenting with his tactics right before the tournament.
Even if Russia does not progress to the knockout stage, a win of this magnitude gives hope to the fans and improves the atmosphere across the host cities.