Substitute Denis Cheryshev and rising CSKA Moscow star Aleksandr Golovin were the heroes for hosts Russia when World Cup 2018 got under way as they helped inflict a 5-0 thrashing on Saudi Arabia, helping erase plentiful pre-match apathy in the process.
Stanislav Cherchesov’s men came in as the lowest-ranked nation in the tournament (70) and were widely expected to endure a sorry time in Group A. But in front of President Vladimir Putin at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, they put the pliant Saudis to the sword.
Krasnodar midfielder Yury Gazinsky headed in the first goal with the first attempt on target of the tournament on 12 minutes. Cheryshev then soon fired into the roof of the goal against ramshackle opponents after coming off the bench for the injured Alan Dzagoev.
A trio of goals followed in the second half. Giant replacement Artem Dzyuba headed in on 71 minutes, before Cheryshev’s stunning goal with the outside of his boot and Golovin’s perfect free-kick added to the rout in injury time.
Here are our Saudi Arabia player ratings:
SAUDI ARABIA (4-2-3-1)
Abdullah Al Mayouf – 5: The Al Hilal shot stopper should have been braver to charge down Cheryshev for the second. Otherwise, dealt well with Russia’s attempts.
Mohammed Al Breik – 5: The Hilal right-back was a surprise recall, in favour of Al Ahli Jeddah’s Mansoor Al Harbi. Didn’t cover himself in glory when he recklessly slid in to allow Cheryshev through.
Osama Hawsawi – 5: The experienced, 34-year-old skipper was meant to represent a pillar of strength and he did lead the way for the Saudis with five tackles. Yet he couldn’t make a true impression on the Russian attackers.
Omar Hawsawi – 5: The step-up for the Al Nassr centre-back appeared to prove too much. Was all at sea, throughout – especially for Cheryshev’s first.
Yasser Al Shahrani – 5: Russia had obviously studied the tape from the defeat to Germany. His adventurous play from full-back leaves gap, plus he has a propensity to get caught out under the high ball. This was key to the opener.
Abdullah Otayf – 5: The anchorman has his qualities on the ball, averaging more than 85-per-cent pass completion. But his lack of physicality made the midfield battle a lost one before kick-off. Pulled soon after the hour mark.
Salman Al Faraj – 6: Usually such a classy operator for Hilal and Saudi Arabia. Was only the best of a bad bunch on Thursday.
Yahya Al Shehri – 4: The diminutive winger – the smallest player in the competition – had grown in stature after strong displays in the warm-ups against Italy and Germany. But he was woeful here, repeatedly losing the ball in dangerous positions. Lucky to last 73 minutes.
Taisir Al Jassim – 5: Slip was key to the concession of the first goal. The 33-year-old Al Ahli Jeddah veteran was also utterly ineffectual in an attacking sense, contributing no shots or key passes.
Salem Al Dawsari – 6: Brings an air of excitement and unpredictability. Simply couldn’t get on the ball enough to make the most of his talents and got frustrated.
Mohammad Al Sahlawi – 4: Tried to run the channels and get involved, his presence in the middle also forcing an uncomfortable early defensive header. Yet his very presence robbed Saudi of a key asset – pace. Should have been removed before 85 minutes.
Fahad Al Muwallad – 6: How different it could have been if the Al Ittihad man’s raw speed had been utilised from the start.
Hattan Bahebri – 6: Made little impression with his time on the park.
Muhannad Assiri – 6: A like-for-like change with Al Sahlawi did little for the Saudi cause as they went 4-4-2 at the death.
The cream of the football crop can now be found in Russia ahead of World Cup 2018’s heralded kick-off on Thursday.
But every grand adventure must have a starting point. For these 736 elite athletes, that is in the academy system.
We’ve picked out a selection of elite breeding grounds in a bid to decide which one has made the greatest contribution to this summer’s main event.
This figure isn’t decided purely on sheer volume, rather a subjective look at the players created:
World Cup 2018 players: 12
Famous alumni: Cristiano Ronaldo, William Carvalho, Joao Moutinho
Any success experienced by Portugal has to be shared with Sporting Lisbon.
The dozen players honed, at some stage, at Academia Sporting within the A Selecao das Quinas ranks contribute a grand total of 604 international caps. In Real Madrid icon Cristiano Ronaldo, it produced both the nation’s leading scorer (81 goals), leading appearance maker (150) and the captain of the side who helped inspire a surprise victory at Euro 2016.
To showcase the scale of the contribution, Benfica are next on the list with just five squad members.
Located at rural Alcochete, more than 30 kilometres away from the capital, the facility is one of the most modern and well equipped academies in Europe.
This emphasis on tranquility and a dedication to footballing excellence made the barbaric events of May 15 all the more surprising. A mob of approximately 50 irate supporters charged the centre, leaving several coaches and players blooded.
The fallout from this shocking incident could now cost the outfit more than €100 million (Dh431.4m) in lost transfer fees as the likes of goalkeeper Rui Patricio, defensive midfielder William Carvalho and winger Gelson Martins reportedly push to have their contracts cancelled on the grounds of safety.
World Cup 2018 players: Nine
Famous alumni: Luka Modric, Dejan Lovren, Mateo Kovacic
The grip of Dinamo Zagreb on Croatian football has been a tight – and controversial one.
From childhood prospects to players in adulthood who’ve been sold on to the biggest clubs in the world, their Stadion Hitrec-Kacian home represents a valuable talent mine since its founding in 1967.
Real Madrid metronome Luka Modric is one of nine members of the current roster to come through there, so too 99-cap Lokomotiv Moscow defender Vedran Corluka. Fellow Los Blancos midfielder Mateo Kovacic was attracted aged 13-years old even though he was born in Linz, Austria to Bosnian Croatian parents and was trailed at that point by the likes of Bayern Munich, Juventus and Ajax.
Clubs like Hadjuk Split (AC Milan striker Nikola Kalinic) and Osijek (versatile Besiktas defender Domagoj Vida) cannot match both this volume of footballers produced – and the mega stars that Dinamo creates.
Disgraced ex-chief executive Zdravko Mamic, his brother – and current Al Ain coach – Zoran and several other officials were found guilty last week of corruption. Custodial sentences have been issued on charges that the prosecuted vigorously contest, and plan to appeal.
This high-profile case and lengthy trial has even swept up the generation headed to Russia 2018. Modric has been charged with perjury for allegedly making false statements when questioned about his 2008 move to Tottenham, with Liverpool centre-back Dejan Lovren also being investigated for giving false testimony.
A murky saga in a tale of sporting excellence.
World Cup 2018 players: Eight
Famous alumni: Lionel Messi, Giovani dos Santos, Andres Iniesta
La Masia holds a special place in all football lover’s affections.
Only Brazil’s Santos could claim to have made a similar contribution to the principles of ‘The Beautiful Game’.
The dormitory has housed a rich list of footballing names – and this is the case once again in 2018. Remarkably, Barcelona’s facility boasts international players external to the home country.
Spain’s trophy chasers currently boast four alumnus – centre-back Gerard Pique, left-back Jordi Alba, defensive midfielder Sergio Busquets and lauded attacking midfielder Andres Iniesta.
The most famous name will be wearing the sky blue and white of Argentina – Lionel Messi. A claim to become the greatest footballer of all time by the five-time Ballon d’Or winner will become firmer if belated success at the World Cup can be experienced after the near miss four years ago.
Mexico internationals Jonathan and Giovani dos Santos came through La Masia, before departing for pastures new. Both can now be found at Los Angeles Galaxy.
South Korea winger Lee Seung-woo was a key figure in 2014’s transfer ban about the registration of international players under the age of 18. He was sold to Serie A’s Hellas Verona last summer.
World Cup 2018 is now just a matter of days away and several major contenders have already landed in Russia after they completed their final warm-up matches.
But how are they shaping up? Which players are in form and will the head coaches be forced into any last-minute tactical tweaks?
Here, we review where Portugal find themselves ahead of Friday’s Group B-opener against Spain at Fisht Stadium:
The Euro 2016 holders will have been content to begin this month’s friendly double header with a 0-0 draw against Belgium, from which Real Madrid icon Cristiano Ronaldo was not present. They then enjoyed a glorious send-off at Estadio da Luz as Algeria were beaten 3-0, Paris Saint-Germain-owned attacker Goncalo Guedes getting a double.
WHO IS IN FORM AND WHO IS IN A SLUMP?
Guedes’ fine campaign on loan at Valencia – where he got nine assists and five goals in 33 La Liga run-outs – on the left wing looks set to be rewarded with a roving striking role. He started both matches there. This comes in place of Andre Silva. An awful debut AC Milan season, two goals in 24 Serie A games, appears to be hurting his World Cup hopes.
Head coach Fernando Santos is sure to unleash his charges in a 4-4-2 system that accentuates the strengths of 33-year-old Ronaldo. His main selection headache revolves around the right wing. Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva should retain his spot in the XI. But Bruno Fernandes scored his first international goal against Algeria and is pushing.
Friday’s Group B-clash against resurgent Spain will provide the acid test for Portugal’s creaking centre-backs. Besiktas’ Pepe and Dalian Yifang’s Jose Fonte were pivotal to the success two years ago, but now boast a combined age of 69. In reserve, Rangers’ Bruno Alves is 36-years old and Benfica’s Ruben Dias, 21, has just one cap. A true problem area.