Aleksandr Golovin emergence on World Cup stage headlines Russia 5-0 Saudi Arabia talking points

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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 away the pliant Saudis.

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.

ALEKSANDR THE GREAT

Russians have grown to welcome the World Cup.

Such feelings of warmth hadn’t transferred to a national side that had been seen as a national embarrassment waiting to happen.

All that changed within 90 minutes at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium in ‘El Gasico’.

Central to this transformation was the startling and effective display put in by Golovin.

Links to perennial Serie A champions Juventus had filled the build-up for the 22-year-old centre midfielder. A pair of assists and a characteristically exquisite free-kick at the death meant these shouldn’t just be hollow words.

Patience and precision was the key.

He took his time in either half before sending killer crosses in for Gazinsky and Dzyuba.

To add to the personal allure and already lengthy list of suitors, his later curled set-piece was a delight to behold. This was a pure technician operating at the highest level – and showed April’s startling effort against Arsenal at Emirates Stadium was no one-off.

Golovin’s tally of five key passes was three more than any team-mate and only overlapping left-back Yuri Zhirkov attempted more crosses (six).

A thumping of the Saudis will not end the inquisition about the merits of this Russia. Even if this was the biggest opening victory for a host nation since 1934.

But if Golovin, plus two-goal Cheryshev, can remain this potent, an avoidance of defeat against Egypt on Tuesday should be attained.

This could be enough to guarantee second spot and a pressure-relieving place in the knockouts after years of downplaying expectations.

SAUDI’S PAIN

More than 30 million fervent Saudis always expect.

It did not matter that the Green Falcons came in as the second-lowest ranked side in the competition at 67, three places above Thursday’s opponents Russia.

Or that Juan Antonio Pizzi was the third coach at the helm since qualification was gained last September, a trio of star men had played a combined 19 minutes in La Liga since January’s high-profile loan moves, they’d lost all three preceding warm-ups and hadn’t featured in the competition since 2006.

High demands follow anyone that dons the Saudi shirt.

But since Sami Al Jaber and Saeed Al Owairan dazzled at World Cup 1994’s debut – and singular – run to the round of 16, a subsequent 10 matches have delivered zero victories and eight defeats. Only four goals have been registered, to the concession of 31.

This display in the Russian capital only adds to the pain.

Centre midfielder Taisir Al Jassim’s slip to allow Gazinsky’s header was comical, so too the pair of slides from defenders Mohammed Al Breik and Omar Hawsawi for substitute Cheryshev’s clincher.

You dread to think what Barcelona’s Luis Suarez and Paris Saint-Germain’s Edinson Cavani will do to them on Wednesday when they face Uruguay.

The decision by Pizzi to reinstall statuesque and out-off-form centre forward Mohammad Al Sahlawi contributed to an ineffectual attacking performance. It featured zero attempts on target for the Al Nassr man and his team-mates.

Lessons seemingly went unlearned from deploying livewire winger Fahad Al Muwallad there in the morale-boosting friendly defeats to Italy and Germany.

An early exit from a Group A low on searing quality already seems assured after just one, dissatisfying match.

Juan Antonio Pizzi looks on before the game.

Juan Antonio Pizzi looks on before the game.

DZAGOEV – THE FALLEN IDOL

This was the moment feared by all footballers at World Cup 2018.

Alan Dzagoev was racing to keep up with a rapier Russia counter-attack when a lightning bolt of pain shot up his left leg. A classic hamstring injury – and one that will surely end his tournament after less than 25 minutes of action.

The CSKA Moscow playmaker was expected to be the home star of this event when Russia, contentiously, won the bid to become hosts in December 2010.

Instead, unfulfilled promise details both Dzagoev’s contribution to this running and his career at large.

The attacker was one of the highest-rated youth products on the planet when handed his international debut a decade ago, aged just 18.

Throughout the intervening years, teams from Real Madrid to Tottenham Hotspur were linked to taking him off CSKA’s hands.

Yet a comfortable life in the Russian Premier League and wages artificially inflated by foreign player limits arrested his development. The enticing overtures slowed down long ago.

Legendary defender Viktor Onopko and forward Andrei Arshavin looked outwards for improvement in previous generations. In contrast, the stunting of Dzagoev, plus contemporaries such as Zenit St Petersburg pair Aleksandr Kokorin and Oleg Shatov, directly contributed to the degeneration since Euro 2008’s run to the semi-finals.

Dzagoev was meant to light up this stage. Instead, he exits with barely an impression made.

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World Cup 2018 player ratings: Saudi Arabia thumped 5-0 in Russia opener

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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.

SUBS

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.

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Sporting Lisbon academy stands out as best breeding ground for World Cup 2018 superstars

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Cristiano Ronaldo (r) scoring for Manchester United at boyhood club Sporting Lisbon in 2007.

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:

SPORTING LISBON

Portugal v Chile: Semi-Final - FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017

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.

DINAMO ZAGREB

Croatia v Brazil - International Friendly

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.

Yet, there is a dark side to this story.

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.

BARCELONA

Denmark v Mexico - International Friendly

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.

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