Sunday, 24 June, 2018

20 million Saudis set to watch World Cup opening match

Alexei Nikolsky  Russian Presidential Press and Information Office  TASS Alexei Nikolsky Russian Presidential Press and Information Office TASS
Rita Gibson | 15 June, 2018, 02:49

Putin, grappling with Western sanctions since seizing Crimea from Ukraine four years ago, will attend an opening ceremony at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium ahead of the first match of the month-long festival, pitting the hosts against Saudi Arabia.

The opening goal came soon after, as Saudi Arabia failed to clear a corner and a curling cross in from the left by Golovin picked out an unmarked Gazinsky to head low into the far corner.

Denis Cheryshev showed great skill of his own to double the hosts' lead just before half time with a left-footed piledriver, and Artem Dzyuba headed Russia's third in the 71st minute - 89 seconds after coming on as a substitute.

Number 70 Russian Federation and 67 Saudi Arabia kicked off the tournament as the lowest-ranked of all 32 teams after a short opening ceremony with Robbie Williams as headliner on an overcast evening.

Russia's triumph marked the biggest win in any World Cup opening game.

Russian Federation started the World Cup as the lowest-ranked team in the tournament but the hosts were a class above Saudi Arabia, Dzyuba's header stretching the lead in the 71st minute.

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Cities such as Saransk were sleepy outposts with decaying buildings until the World Cup reconstruction put them firmly in the 21st century.

The two teams headed into the break with Russian Federation holding a comfortable 2-0 lead despite Saudi Arabia enjoying a larger percentage of possession.

Saudi Arabia will take the field on Thursday as lengthy +800 underdogs.

It also helps if you are facing a team who have now lost eight and drawn two of their last 10 World Cup matches, whose defending fell painfully short of World Cup standard and whose attack was non-existent.

Fears that Russian Federation may become just the second host nation to fail to qualify from the group stages have been quashed for now, but their next opponents Egypt were given a huge boost by the return to fitness of Mohamed Salah ahead of their clash with Uruguay on Friday. He later chipped the ball in for Russia's fourth goal in stoppage time.

Egypt coach Hector Cuper said he could assure fans "almost 100 percent" Salah will play some part in Yekaterinburg.

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