What a way to start a tournament like the World Cup, the host Russia thumped Saudi Arabia 5-0 to record the biggest win by the host nation in the opening game of a World Cup since 1934.
Russia were the lowest ranked side in World Cup history, No. 70 in FIFA’s seedings, but totally outclassed their Asian rivals from start to finish.
But in front of a largely partisan crowd of 78,011 at the Luzhniki Stadium they never looked in danger against a Saudi Arabia side that seemed to lack intensity, defensive discipline and attacking edge.
In the early stages, Russian pressure allowed the hosts to dominate possession, and on 12 minutes they took the lead. Saudi failed to clear a corner, Aleksandr Golovin crossed, and Iury Gazinski guided a header into the far corner.
And on 43 minutes, another error inspired a Russian break, their defence disintegrated, and substitute Denis Cheryshev finished beautifully.
The tempo slowed and the atmosphere flattened after the restart, giving the whole thing the feel of a friendly match.
But substitute Artem Dzyuba illuminated a match of often dubious quality with a precise header to extend his team’s lead just minutes after replacing Fedor Smolov.
And as the match moved into injury time the impressive Cheryshev smashed home with a crisp strike into the top corner before the superb Aleksandr Golovin curled a free-kick around the wall.
Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov said: “Sometimes it’s a source of joy for the fans, sometimes less so. However, we are honest in what we are doing. 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. Why do I have to be stressed?
“I would like to underscore that we are grateful to our squad with how they fulfilled our goals, how they played in a relaxed game under the pressure stemming from this being an opening match.
“But Egypt will be a different game, city and stadium, We need to meticulously prepare ourselves.
“We have made the first step, then there is a stronger opponent. We don’t know if Mohamed Salah is going to play [for Egypt]. With him or without him it is a respectably strong team, with him stronger obviously. It is just a different adversary.”
Russia’s Denis Cheryshev, who scored twice, said:“There are no words to express what I’m feeling right now.
“I could never have dreamed of anything like this. I’m happy we’ve won but we shouldn’t stop there.”
Saudi Arabia coach Juan Antonio Pizzi said: “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. I don’t believe that the opposing team has done anything to surprise us – I think that a poor performance explains the result.
“As for our strategy, we must change. We have to forget about it now and think of the next match. I have confidence in these players.”