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Russian Federation v Saudi Arabia

20 Juin 2018

Russian Federation have never made the knockout stage of a World Cup as an independent nation and are desperate to make amends this summer.

In a World Cup first, the video assistant referee system was available for the match between the tournament's lowest-ranked teams, though it wasn't used for an official review.

But the team's reliance on the 32-year-old, who infamously went a staggering 43 Champions League matches without keeping a clean sheet over an 11-year span, speaks volumes about the home team's chances. He later chipped the ball in for Russia's fourth goal in stoppage time.

Al-Mayouf was called into action again on 65 minutes, although Cheryshev's header from Smolov's cross on the left produced a routine save from the keeper, who could only parry Zobnin's shot back into the danger area three minutes later, but Hawsawi was on hand to clear ahead of a lurking Smolov.

Denis Cheryshev got his second goal, turning and firing into the top of the net. Not this time. Saudi Arabia was awful.

As the full-time whistle neared, the result was never in doubt but just as it looked like Russian Federation would be taking the foot of their gas, Cheryshev came up with what could prove to be the goal of the tournament.

The other teams in the section start their campaigns on Friday, with Egypt taking on Uruguay in Ekaterinburg in the first kick-off of the day.

"It takes a long time for us to start driving but I think when we press the foot on the pedal, we go all the way", said Cherchesov.

Artem Senchenko, a 23-year-old bartender at Pivbar who used to train with CSKA Moscow as a striker from the age of six until he was 13, told The Straits Times: "Recent results have not been good but we want Russian Federation to do well and with talented players like Aleksandr Golovin and Fyodor Smolov, we believe the Sbornaya will at least beat Saudi Arabia 2-0".

A sad moment occurred in the twenty-third minute when Alan Dzagoev picked up an injury.

He scored the fifth goal, provided two assists and showed some real quality in possession.

In his 12th global appearance for Russia, Cheryshev not only scored a brace, but the first goal was his first worldwide goal. With a one-goal lead, Russian Federation drew back and left the ball possession to Saudi Arabia's players, waiting for the chance on counter-attacks, while the Green Falcons just couldn't find the rhythm in their play, making too many mistakes in the middle of the park.

After the match, Cheryshev said that Team Russia just followed Cherchesov's orders.

Despite failing to win in seven matches stretching back to October 2017, the hosts still have realistic hopes of making it to the second round for the first time in more than 30 years after being drawn in a group also containing Egypt and Uruguay. Host Russia, which qualified directly are ranked 70, while their opening opponents Saudi Arabia are 67, as per the latest Federation Internationale de Football Association rankings.

The home side will heavily bank on the experience of their star goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev.

Russian Federation notched five goals in their first match.

Russian Federation v Saudi Arabia