World Cup 2018: Russia thrash substandard Saudi Arabia in opener

Sam Wallace

From somewhere in his statesman’s repertoire, and with the eyes of the world upon him at the Luzhniki Stadium, Vladimir Putin found himself having to dredge up the expression that conveys sympathy - the alternative being much too impolite for his guest from Saudi Arabia.

In the VIP seats, the two of them were engaging in a spot of friendly diplomacy over the Fifa president Gianni Infantino, while on the pitch things were getting frankly embarrassing for the man from Saudi Arabia. Among the many roles His Excellency Crown Prince Mohammad Bin-Salman fulfills for his nation is that of minister of defence and he would be entitled to ask his Spanish coach Juan Antonio Pizzi why he elected to embark on this World Cup campaign without one of his own.

This turned into the host nation’s perfect start to the World Cup final, a first half injury to Alan Dzagoev aside, when their hitherto misfiring side scored five against a Saudi Arabia team so hopelessly at sea that even the Russians ended up feeling sorry for them. At first it seemed that Saudi Arabia had a team that was reasonable in possession but without a cutting edge, and then as time went on it was clear that they lacked a defence, a decent goalkeeper or any kind of robustness of character as things went from bad to worse.  

It was a low-key start to the tournament in terms of the opening ceremony when the greatest offence spotted by the video assistant referees would have been the middle-finger Robbie Williams inexplicably flicked at a camera as he raced through his greatest hits. There was little that spoke in particular of Russian culture until Putin stepped up to the microphone and welcomed the world to rapturous applause from the home fans.

What followed was, all told, a match of low quality between one mediocre team and another that was so bad it was tempting to check Asian qualifying to try to figure how on earth they made it this far. Saudi Arabia were poor, conceding two in injury time added on at the end of the game, and the second post-match question to Pizzi was whether he was likely to be sacked before the next game against Uruguay.

Vladimir Putin found himself having to dredge up the expression that conveys sympathy Credit: FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images

It should be said that under great pressure, Russia played this game well, allowing Saudi Arabia to stroke the ball around pointlessly in midfield and then pounce on the many mistakes made by the men in green. There were two goals from their substitute Denis Cheryshev, formerly of Real Madrid, whose second, struck with the outside of his left foot in time added on at the end, was the moment of true quality - and prompted Putin to shrug in sympathy at his Saudi counterpart.

Cheryshev had come on for Dzagoev who pulled a hamstring on 23 minutes and may not play again at the tournament, his manager Stanislas Cherchesov said after the match. The CSKA Moscow playmaker has been plagued with injury problems his whole career and perhaps this change was just meant to be for Russia given Cheryshev’s performance. There was a third goal from another substitute, Artem Dzyuba, with one of his first touches.

“The next game [against Egypt] will be much more complex,” Cherchesov said. “We don’t know whether Mohamed Salah will play or not, and even with them they are a respectable side. But I am relaxed - why do I have to be stressed?” It was certainly a good afternoon for the old Soviet Union goalkeeper and his celebrations on the touchline as the result was put beyond doubt suggested a man who has indeed been quite stressed in private.

There were two assists for Aleksandr Golovin, and then he scored the last goal of the day from a free-kick in injury time which eluded the lamentable Abdullah Almuaiouf in goal for Saudi Arabia. “Shameful” was how Pizzi described his team. “The opposing team didn’t really have to make a huge effort to win by a landslide,” he said. Born in Argentina, but a former Spanish international he hinted at deeper problems with his players, who were paper thin in defence when Russia counter-attacked.

Pizzi simply said that he had done his best and “given my all”. “There are certain situations I can’t control,” he added bleakly.

Cheryshev leaves two Saudi defenders on their backsides before scoring his first and Russia's second goal Credit: Victor Caivano/AP

His team finished with 62 per cent possession and no shots on goal, conceding the first when midfielder Iury Gazinsky headed in at the back post from Golovin’s cross after Taiseer Aljassam slipped at the crucial moment. Cheryshev got the second before half-time, sending two Saudi defenders out for refreshments with a dummy and finishing well. After the break, Dzyuba headed in another Golovin ball. Cheryshev buried that one with his his left and Golovin added the fifth from a free-kick.

With five minutes remaining Pizzi substituted his striker Mohammed Alsahlawi who has 28 goals in 40 caps albeit eight of them in two matches against East Timor. Alsahlawi trained with Manchester United this season proving that it really is remarkable what privileges a rich nation can arrange for its footballers. But when it comes down to the real business of a World Cup finals there is simply no hiding place for the substandard.

 

 

6:48PM

Group A

For what it's worth 

 

6:43PM

Russia's manager Stanislav Cherchesov speaks

'I was relaxed yesterday and I'm relaxed today because I know my players. It is a pleasure to work with them. Every coach depends on the players, this is why I am relaxed.'

 

6:26PM

Fifa's man of the match is ...

Denis Cheryshev 

6:26PM

Saudi Arabia's head coach speaks

Juan Antonio Pizzi says: "It was a tough game and we suffered a big and unexpected defeat. Russia did very well, while we did not appear to be in good shape. We have to forget about it now and think of the next match. I have confidence in these players." 

6:21PM

Cheryshev's second

This photograph captures the unstoppable path of his shot perfectly:

Denis Cheryshev scores Russia's fourth and his second Credit: REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

 

6:09PM

Insta-stats 

Courtesy of Opta:

  • Russia’s victory means that the host nation has never lost their opening match in any of the 21 editions of the FIFA World Cup (W16 D6 L0).
  • Russia (5-0) recorded the second biggest victory ever by a host nation in their opening match at a World Cup tournament, after Italy vs USA in 1934 (7-1).
  • Saudi Arabia have not won any of their last 11 games at the World Cup (W0 D2 L9). Their last win in the competition dates back to the group stages of the 1994 edition (1-0 vs Belgium).
  • Saudi Arabia have conceded 14 headed goals at the World Cup since their debut in 1994, that’s five more than any other team over that period (USA - 9).
  • Russia’s Denis Cheryshev became the first-ever substitute to score a goal in the opening match of a World Cup tournament.
  • Both Yuri Gazinskiy (7th appearance) and Denis Cheryshev (12th appearance) scored their first-ever goals for Russia in this match.
  • Artem Dzyuba scored for Russia just 89 seconds after coming off the bench; the quickest goal by a substitute at a World Cup since Marcin Zewlakow for Poland vs USA in 2002.

6:05PM

Immediate punditry

'You'd have to go a long way to find a team more disorganised than Saudi Arabia after they conceded the first goal,' says Gary Neville. 'Russia lost their best player but to have Cheryshev to come in and do what he did ...'

'It's great for Russia but also great for the tournament,' concludes Slaven Bilic. 'Someone said the bear is rolling, I would rather wait. But they have two strikers, three [attacking] midfielders and two holding midfielders. They weren't tested but they have [talent and promise]

6:02PM

And Golovin makes it five

Golovin bends in his free-kick in the nick of time before the final whistle Credit: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

 

6:00PM

Russia finish at a gallop 

With two terrific goals. Here is Cheryshev's second, Russia's fourth:

Denis Cheryshev makes it 4-0 Credit: Clive Rose/Getty Images

 

5:56PM

Full time Russia 5-0 Saudi Arabia

Well, that's your lot. Vladimir Putin diplomatically didn't smile, simply exhaling and spreading his arms wide as Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman's face took on a thundery mien. 

5:55PM

Goal!! Russia 5-0 Saudi Arabia

Golovin curls it in at the near post. Brilliant, dipping shot. 

5:54PM

 90+3 min Russia 4-0 Saudi Arabia

Russia free-kick, 20m out, right of centre ....

5:54PM

90+2 min Russia 4-0 Saudi Arabia

Magnificent. A deft knockdown from Zobnin and Cheryshev took a touch that pushed him into the box then hit a sumptuous rising shot with the outside of his left foot that arced up and over Abdullah and into the top corner. 

5:52PM

GOAL! Russia 4-0 Saudi Arabia

Denis Cheryshev scores with a left-foot screamer, an insouciant outside-of-the-boot finish. 

5:51PM

90 min Russia 3-0 Saudi Arabia

Mario Fernandes on a rare foray is pushed up and threads a pass even further forward to Zobnin who wins a corner when Omar intervenes with yet another clumsy touch. Seems to be wearing Toblerone-shaped boots. The ball is flying off them at all sorts of angles bar the expected ones. We'll have three minutes added on. 

5:48PM

88 min Russia 3-0 Saudi Arabia

Golovin is the first player to be booked on the totting up principle after being warned about three minutes before he felt the long arm of the lawman. 

5:47PM

86 min Russia 3-0 Saudi Arabia

Russia free-kick on the left, 30 m out, about 2m in from the touchline. He bends it towards the back post and between then Osama and Omar see it behind for a corner that comes to naught. The substitute and his manager have had a turbulent relationship - all smiles and salutes now. 

Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov salutes Russia's Artem Dzyuba after he scored their third goal Credit: REUTERS/Carl Recine

 

5:45PM

83 min Russia 3-0 Saudi Arabia

Kuziaev runs through the centre of midfield, slightly to the left, and, when he is not challenged, decides to let fly from 40 yards and gets under it so comprehensively that he scoops it 20m over the bar. 

5:43PM

81 min Russia 3-0 Saudi Arabia

I've been impressed with Roman Zobnin who has come out to the right. Ignashevich blocks a cross from the substitute Bahbri (who had come on for Yahia Alsshehri a few moments ago) on the right and then dispossesses  Almuwahallad who tried to feed on the scraps. 

5:40PM

78 min Russia 3-0 Saudi Arabia

Deep cross from the right by Daler Kuziaev is cut out by Omar Hawsawi.

5:39PM

77 min Russia 3-0 Saudi Arabia

Golovin and Salman Alfaraj have a barney out by the dugouts with some handbags and the wafting of nosegays. The referee tells them to belt up and get on with it. It couldn't have gone much better for Russia. 

5:37PM

75 min Russia 3-0 Saudi Arabia

Dzyuba steers in Russia's third with his first touch Credit: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

 

5:35PM

73 min Russia 3-0 Saudi Arabia

The 6ft 5in centre-forward is notoriously a beast in the air, the Hrubesch of the Urals, but he didn't need his strength only his nous to make a fine run between the centre-backs to head crisply in from the centre of goal. Good right-wing cross from Kuziaev, it bypassed Osama Hawsawi and isolated the keeper. 

5:32PM

GOAL! Russia 3-0 Saudi Arabia 

Dzyuba scores with his first touch!

5:31PM

69 min Russia 2-0 Saudi Arabia

Russia continue to press and fly into tackles as they become a little more ragged. Saudi Arabia break up the left, switch play to the right but Russia usher it tamely into touch. Russia make their last sub: Artem Dzyuba replaces Fedor Smolov. It was Samedov who went off for Kuziaev, sorry. 

5:29PM

67 min Russia 2-0 Saudi Arabia

A miracle: Roboblogger momentarily has sprung into life:

 Zobnin's shot is fumbled by Abdullah and arrows straight to Smolov but the keeper springs up and bravely dives in to whip it away off the centre-forward's tow. That came a moment after Cheryshev heads Golovin's shot into Abdullah's grasp. 

5:26PM

 64 min Russia 2-0 Saudi Arabia

A substitute each - Fahad Almuwallad replaces Abdullah Otayf for Saudi Arabia, Daler Kuziaev comes on for Alexander Samedov for the hosts. 

5:24PM

62 min Russia 2-0 Saudi Arabia

For all Pizzi's frustration. Saudi Arabia are having their best spell of possession since Russia scored their second. Not making much progress with it, though. 

5:22PM

59 min Russia 2-0 Saudi Arabia

Saudi's manager is getting increasingly frustrated with their aberrations, moments of poor control or judgment that undo fairly decent approach play. 

Juan Antonio Pizzi bellows Credit:  Lars Baron - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

 

5:19PM

58 min Russia 2-0 Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia free-kick on the left, curled keft-footed away from the penalty spot. Salman Alfaraj wins the header as he met it perfectly as it dipped but bludgeoned it over the bar. 

5:18PM

56 min Russia 2-0 Saudi Arabia

Oh, chance! Taiseer Aljassam makes a cute diagonal near-post run to meet Salem Aldawsari's cross from the right and attempts to hook it in on the half volley but airkicks instead. He was on the half-turn but couldn't quite reach it as it travelled across his body. Should have turned a few degrees more and hit it with his left. 

5:16PM

54 min Russia 2-0 Saudi Arabia

Some of the air has escaped the balloon and Russia's fans try to inflate it again. 

5:14PM

 51 min Russia 2-0 Saudi Arabia

Zhirkov trots up to take it, hits a banana outswinger with his left that Saudi Arabia defend competently and try to work upfield. They make 50m, give the ball away and Russia beast them on the break, hitting them in numbers and at terrorising pace as they retreat.  Golovin accepts the invitation but spoons his shot over the bar.

Bigwigs chinwag instead of watching the match Credit: ITV Sport

 

5:10PM

50 min Russia 2-0 Saudi Arabia

And so it proves when a pass is picked off and Zhirkov bends a fine pass up towards Samedov who is beaten to the punch, er shot, and Russia have a corner on the left. 

5:09PM

48 min Russia 2-0 Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia pass the ball around the back four, so far unimpeded but one fears they're only a shonky pass away from danger. 

5:07PM

46 min Russia 2-0 Saudi Arabia

No half-time subtitutions. Cheryshev has another burst up the left, plays an inadvertent one-two with Alburayk but then turns back and lays it back to Zhirkov and they, as Clive Hendrix would say, get caught up in crosstown traffic. 

5:00PM

Russia's second

Cheryshev, managed by Gary Neville at Valencia, is, says the ITV pundit 'a throwback as a winger, a real good lad'. Here's his finish:

Denis Cheryshev doubles Russia's lead Credit: Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

 

4:56PM

Here's Osama Hasawi's 'exceptional' last-ditch tackle

Aleksandr Golovin of Russia is challenged in the area by Osama Hawsawi of Saudi Arabia Credit: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

The third replay shows he didn't reach the ball first. ITV's referee and VAR expert Mark Clattenburg says it wasn't a penalty nonetheless because it wasn't a clear and obvious error and Golovin anticipated the 'foul' and went over prematurely. 

4:53PM

Half-time

A very decent first-half all told. Much to admire about Russia's growing confidence. Scoring first sets them up to play in their preferred mode, on the counter-attack and employing Samedov, Golovin and Cheryshev to run at the Saudi defence whose organisational discipline has disappeared, leaving huge gaps between centre-backs and full-backs and with midfielders hopelessly adrift upfield. 

4:49PM

45+2 min Russia 2-0 Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia have some skilful players but they make so many individual errors in terms of possession and positioning that Russia have been able to pick them off. 

4:48PM

44 min Russia 2-0 Saudi Arabia

That's terrific ball skill from Cheryshev. Golovin fortunately picks up a deflected pass and he moves it forward to give Russia a three v two up the right. Zobnin's run across the 18m line from the right committed three defenders before he slipped a fine pass to Cheryshev who took a touch which wrongfooted Alburayk who fell to the floor. Cheryshev then composed himself and smashed a left-foot riser over Abdullah's attempt to close him down. 

4:44PM

GOAL! Russia 2-0 Saudi Arabia

Cheryshev makes amends!

4:44PM

42 min Russia 1-0 Saudi Arabia

Cheryshev displays all that youthful promise when he spins Osama with a drag back when he was played in down the left by the excellent Zhirkov but he overran his own lay-off ...

4:42PM

40 min Russia 1-0 Saudi Arabia

Russia, too, do the first things well, winning the ball back and heading 60m towards goal in co-ordinated fashion yet the killer pass, that would have opened the way through for Smolov down the inside-left, was hammered too long. 

4:40PM

38 min Russia 1-0 Saudi Arabia

Yasser Alshahrani has an exquisite first touch. He brings down a walloped goal kick on his left instep and drives forward up the left. His pass, though, is not worthy of the cushioned trap and Russia bring it upfield. 

4:38PM

35 min Russia 1-0 Saudi Arabia

End-to-end, Russia defending Saudi Arabia's raid and bombing forward themselves, quick forward passes helping them into the box where Zobnin goes down under Osama's challenge. The referee immediately says fair tackle, which it was. Perfectly timed, too. 

4:36PM

33 min Russia 1-0 Saudi Arabia

Too many times Saudi's defenders give the ball away - the principal culprit Omar Hawsawi. 'He's having a 'mare' is the ever astute Glenn Hoddle's thought. But Osama bails him out by tackling Smolov who tried to beguile him with a stop-start Ronaldo taunting run up the byline. 

4:34PM

30 min Russia 1-0 Saudi Arabia

Salman Alfaraj takes, bending it in with his left foot and Yasser stoops to head and steers it over the bar. 

Russia playmaker Alan Dzagoev pings his hamstring and has to go off Credit: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

 

4:32PM

28 min Russia 1-0 Saudi Arabia

Russia are caught by the offside trap after Smolov slides a pass through the inside-left channel. Free-kick, taken long and Saudi attack up the right. Zhirkov steps across Alsahlawi to thwart his run and Saudi Arabia have a free-kick, about 2m outside the box by the right angle. 

4:30PM

26 min Russia 1-0 Saudi Arabia

Dzagoev's departure has dampened the spark momentarily. Alburayk, galloping up the right, is picked off by Cheryshev who hurtles 60m upfield but he slips before he can cross properly, as he runs out of steam, and hooks it straight at Osama Hasawi. Saudi Arabia keep giving the ball away. Putin and Mohammad bin Salman are palling up in the stand. Unctuousness prevails. 

4:26PM

24 min Russia 1-0 Saudi Arabia

Former Real Madrid wunderkind Denis Cheryshev replaces Dzagoev. Dens 1-0 Alans. 

Russia's Yuri Gazinsky celebrates with teammates after scoring his side's first goal  Credit: AP Photo/Matthias Schrader

 

4:25PM

22 min Russia 1-0 Saudi Arabia

Oh no! Russia's golden boy Dzagoev, prince of Alans, has twanged his hamstring after leading the break from the well-defended corner. He's gone down clutching his left thigh and that looks like curtains for him. 

4:24PM

20 min Russia 1-0 Saudi Arabia

A rare chance for Saudi Arabia through a break when Alsahlawi leads a counter-attack, hares towards the box and has his daisy-cutter of a shot turned behind by Zobnin. Here's Russia's goal.

Gazinsky scores for Russia Credit: Ryan Pierse/REMOTE/Getty Images

 

4:21PM

17 min Russia 1-0 Saudi Arabia

It's all Russia now, Dzagoev and Smolov linking up with intelligent movement and excellent control so far. Alburayk has a moment of relative calm and has a run up the right but the ball is not sticking up front and back it comes to the Saudi back four. The No5, Omar Hasawi, hits a very careless pass to Samedov but he can't trap it. 

4:18PM

15 min Russia 1-0 Saudi Arabia

Russia attack down the right, an offside unpunished, and Dzagoev's blocked shot, during which he cracks his head in a collision, balloons up and Abdullah dives to his right to claw t away. 

4:16PM

13 min Russia 1-0 Saudi Arabia

A goal from the corner, played short and then an outswinging left-foot cross is met by Garzinsky's cushioned header. Taiseer falls in front of the scorer, no foul, and the midfielder heads it in. Saudi Arabia's crown prince and Vladimir Putin shake hands. 

4:14PM

GOAL! Russia 1-0 Saudi Arabia (Gazinsky) 

A header from the keeper's left. 

4:13PM

11 min Russia 0-0 Saudi Arabia

Gazinsky goes on a mazy run from halfway, veering left, tacking right then threading a delightful pass through to Dzagoev whose shot is turned behind for a corner. 

4:12PM

10 min Russia 0-0 Saudi Arabia

Russia again make progress down the left, Dzagoev and Zhirkov teaming uo well to win a corner but then Zhirkov monstrously overhits his corner almost out of play on the other side and Saudi Arabia break like the wind through Alshahrani but he has no target by the time he runs out of time so hoofs it over the box in the hit and hope style. 

4:10PM

8 min Russia 0-0 Saudi Arabia

Almost a successful raid from Russia when Dzagoev sprints down the left, centres to Smolov who lays it off for the shot from Samedov that is blocked by Alburayk. Both sides look enterprising and confident so far. 

4:08PM

6 min Russia 0-0 Saudi Arabia

Out comes the Saudi keeper after they return to him once more, bombing Neuere like out of his box to welly it upfield hastily with Smolov bearing down on him. Yasser Alshahrani picks it up and stretches the Russian defence on their right again. 

4:06PM

4 min Russia 0-0 Saudi Arabia

Saudi throw 10 metres inside the Russia half on the right. They can't hold onto possession as Russia snap at them and they retreat back to Abdullah in goal. 

4:05PM

3 min Russia 0-0 Saudi Arabia

Zhirkov takes to the near post and it's headed clear by Yasser Alshahrani and Russia cautiously wotk it all the way back to Akinfeev who whacks it almost the full length of the field. 

4:04PM

2 min Russia 0-0 Saudi Arabia

Russia keep probing up the right, win a throw in and hurl it into the box for Dzagoev who tries to hook his leg round for a horizontal volley but can't get his leg high enough before Omar blocks him. Russia corner. 

4:03PM

1 min Russia 0-0 Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia kick off and  push forward up the left through Yasser. Very loud start from the home fans. Russia repel the raid, Samedov takes it forward and is tripped. Free kick. 

4:00PM

Just before kick-off

Here's a gallery of today's best pictures.

World Cup 2018 opening ceremony, in pictures

 

3:58PM

The national anthems

Are being sung. Russia's stirring one, old words remembered by old communists everywhere, partiye Lenina! Sorry, forgot where I was. 

3:45PM

Formations

As far as I can work out, Russia will line up in a 4-2-3-1 and Saudi Arabia in a 4-5-1. I'm going to ditch the al- prefixes, I think from now on. Here's how I think they'll start:

Russia Akinfeev; Fernandes, Kutepov, Ignashevich, Zhirkov; Gazinsky; Zobnin; Samedov, Dzagoev, Golovin; Samedov.

A Russian vuvuzela? What kind of fresh hell is this?  Credit: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Saudi Arabia Abdullah; Alburayk, Osama, Omar, Yasser; Salem, Otayf, Salman, Taiseer, Yahia; Alsahalawi. 

 

3:37PM

Robbie Williams

Has eschewed the Grecian 2000, is wearing the world's worst Roxy Music tribute suit, and singing the hits of the 1998 World Cup. 

3:32PM

And once more for the people

 

3:28PM

A zinger from The Atlantic's man

 

3:25PM

Saudi Arabia's team

Saudi Arabia Al-Maiouf, Al-Breik, Omar Hawsawi, Osama Hawsawi, Al-Shahrani, Al-Faraj, Otayf, Al-Jassim, Al-Shehri, Al-Dawsari, Al-Sahlawi.

And their record:

World Cup record: Saudi Arabia

 

3:22PM

We have VAR at this World Cup

Let us remember its scope for now, at least, is limited to correcting the ‘clear and obvious error’ in four categories: Goals, penalties, red cards and issues of mistaken identity. A new regulation came into force on June 1, specifically for the World Cup, which empowers VARs to warn the on-field referee about any incident of violent conduct he may have missed  - even in cases where play has restarted - and administer retrospective punishment. 

How VAR could have changed past World Cups

 

3:16PM

The Russia XI in black and white

Igor Akinfeev, Mario Fernandes, Ilya Kutepov, Sergei Ignashevich, Yuri Gazinsky, Alan Dzagoev, Fyodor Smolov, Roman Zobnin, Alexander Golovin, Yuri Zhirkov, Alexander Samedov.

And their World Cup record in glorious colour.

World Cup record: Russia

 

3:04PM

What's in the box, Iker?

It's only the World Cup. For these two teams Charles M Schulz, starving dogs and rubber bones come to mind:

Iker Casillas brings the World Cup on to the pitch Credit: Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA

 

2:56PM

Today's venue

Is where Messrs Ovett, Coe, Thompson and Wells won gold in 1980, John Terry slipped in 2008 and Mötley Crüe played in 1989.  

World Cup 2018 stadium: Luzhniki Stadium

 

2:52PM

And here's the Saudi team

Only in Arabic thus far ...

 

2:50PM

1998 revisited

Remember where you were when Michael Owen scored his career-defining goal for England against Argentina? These four people were actually there:

Remembering Michael Owen's wonder goal against Argentina 20 years on

2:44PM

Russia have named their starting XI

 

2:43PM

ITV's coverage has begun

Join Alan Tyers here for his chronicle of the opening ceremony. ITV have done their budget on the studio which tips a hat to the reconstructed Amber Room at Tsarskoye Selo. Bit of a touchy subject during Germany games, one would think ...

2:40PM

No side has a better nickname ...

Than the Green Falcons. And few have a greater best national goal at the World Cup finals:

 

2:37PM

Profound quote of the tournament so far 

Came from the Russia manager Stanislav Cherchesov at yesterday's press conference. "You would be hard-pushed to get around the labyrinth of the Russian soul," he said when asked about low home expectations of his side. He looks like Yosser Hughes after a fight with a sheep shearer, but has the soul of Pushkin. Pity he hasn't got much of a team. 

Ninety minutes' ebb and flow can be a bit of a distraction for some. If you'd like to know the final score now, have a go on the Telegraph's ingenious predictor:

 

2:31PM

The 2018 World Cup starts here

World Cup opening games have traditionally been a specialist taste, enjoyed by people who remember the sight of the Queen and Tony Blair holding hands to sing Auld Lang Syne under the Millennium Dome as 1999 turned into 2000, and Prince gave way to Pulp, when all that anticipation and expense dissolved into the dampest of squibs in the English rain. England vs Uruguay in 1966, Mexico vs USSR in 1970, Brazil vs Yugoslavia in 1974 and Poland vs West Germany in 1978 were all goalless stinkers. Argentina vs Belgium four years later at least gave us a goal, and scores of fouls, while Italy vs Bulgaria in 1986 was prosecuted for passing off by the makers of Temazepam.

But fear not, for that endurance test was followed in 1990 by one of the most astonishing games in World Cup history, Cameroon’s 1-0 victory over holders Argentina at San Siro by virtue of Francois Omam-Biyik’s winner and such extraordinary reckless tackling and conspiracy to commit grievous bodily harm that left several world champions sporting saucer-sized bruises and two Cameroon players with red cards. Suffering for 24 years was worth it solely for the joy of such a spectacle.

While it may be true that the subsequent game reverted to type - Germasnooze vs Bolivyawn - Brazil vs Scotland was pretty entertaining even if you were wearing trousers, Senegal’s duffing up of France, Germany’s 4-2 victory over Costa Rica and Brazil’s 3-1 victory over Croatia, albeit because of farcical refereeing, were watchable, intriguing, broadly compelling. The lack of expectation over today’s game between the two lowest-ranked teams at the tournament, the hosts, Russia, and Saudi Arabia, in the oligopoly vs theocracy, petroCroesus, time for you all to end this disastrous democratic experiment derby, threatens to inflict upon us another South Africa vs Mexico without the infernal horns but, as Paul McCartney says to critics who say The Beatles' eponymous 1968 double album would have been better had it been pruned to one disc: 'F--- off. It's the Beatles' White Album.’ It’s the World Cup! And, referencing track one, side one of that very LP, ‘you don’t know how lucky you are boys*’ …

If you like opening games, check out Charlie Eccleshare's subjective ranking of the previous 16 or so whereas the above is demonstrable fact.  

Ranking World Cup opening matches from bottom to top

* And girls, it was 1968.