As it happened: Russia 5 Saudi Arabia 0

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Updated 14 June 2018

As it happened: Russia 5 Saudi Arabia 0

  • Russia take the lead after 12 minutes through Gazinsky
  • Cheryshev makes it two just before half-time, Artem Dzyuba nets a third and then Cheryshev nets a brilliant fourth late on

FULL-TIME: Russia 5 Saudi Arabia 0. That's the second worst defeat in finals history for Saudi Arabia, second only to the 8-0 hammering they received at the hands of Germany in 2002.

7.55PM: GOAL! Russia score a fifth through Aleksandr Golovin. That's just cruel on the Green Falcons. Pizzi's side haven't played well. but they were not five goals worse than the hosts.

7.51PM: GOAL! Cheryshev rubs salt into Saudi Arabia's wounds with a fourth late on. This has been a horrible opening night for the Green Falcons

7.40PM: Former England striker Dion Dublin: "If this was a five-a-side World Cup tournament, I think Saudi Arabia would do very well, and might even win it. But you cannot play 5-a-side on a full-size pitch."

7.39PM: Russia's Denis Cheryshev was the first ever substitute to score in the opening match of a World Cup. Artem Dzyuba is the second.

7.38PM: Saudi Arabia have actually enjoyed the lion's share of possession, seeing 60 per cent of the ball but they've clearly not been as penetrative as the hosts.

7.37PM: "Saudi Arabi played so pretty strong opposition in the build up to the World Cup but they've been very poor tonight," said former England manager Glenn Hoddle.

7.31PM: GOAL! And game over. Artem Dzyuba scores less than two minutes after coming on with his first touch. That's game, set and match for Russia. 

7.23PM: Saudi Arabia coach has made his move with just under a third of the match remaining, removing defensive midfielder Abdullah Otayf and replacing him with strike weapon Fahad Muwallad.


7.19PM: "I just don't think Saudi Arabia have the ability. If they are playing like this against a Russia side that has been criticised in the build-up to the match, then they are going to struggle in this tournament," said former England captain Alan Shearer. "They are just not used to playing at this level with this intensity, and against this physicality."

7.05PM: And we're back underway at the Luzhniki Stadium. Can Saudi Arabia pull a rabbit out of the hat and get back into this one?

7PM: Pizzi will surely look to change things in the second half. On the bench he has Mohamed Kanno, who scored in the friendly win over Greece, and also Fahad Muwallad, who got the equaliser against Ukraine in March.

6.58PM: Saudi Arabia did not have a single shot on goal in the first half while lone striker Mohammed Al-Sahlawi only enjoyed seven touches – and two of those were from kick-off.

6.54PM: "Saudi Arabia are all at sea when Russia counterattack," says former England defender Gary Neville in his role as a pundit for English TV.

6.52PM: Former England captain Alan Shearer fears for the Green Falcons in the second half. "Every opportunity Russia have to hit them on the break, they are far too quick for Saudi Arabia, and they can go and get four or five goals if they want to," he told BBC Sport.

HT: Russia 2 Saudi Arabia 0. Juan Antonio Pizzi will have to give the half-time talk of his coaching career after the Green Falcons gave themselves a mountain to climb.

6.43PM: GOAL! If Saudi Arabia are to win their opening game they are going to have to do it the hard way after Denis Cheryshev makes it two just before half-time. It's a dream 45 minutes for the hosts and the worst possible one for the Green Falcons.

6.42PM: Here's a good stat for you: 39 percent of all goals Saudi Arabia have conceded in World Cup history have been headers.

6.41PM: BBC Sport pundit Jermain Jenas: "That is three or four times Saudi Arabia have been caught two v two or three v three. It is schoolboy stuff from Saudi Arabia."

6.37PM: Saudi Arabia's forward Salem Al-Dawsari vies for possesion with Russia's midfielder Roman Zobnin.

6.32PM: Saudi Arabia have only scored nine goals in 13 games at the World Cup finals and they are going to need to score at least one here to get something out of their opening Group A game.


6.22PM: Glenn Hoddle: "Saudi Arabia just can't get a foothold in this game right now."

6.12PM: GOAL! Russia draw first blood, taking the lead through Iury Gazinsky. It's quite the time for the Russian to score his first goal for his country.



6.09PM: "Al-Sahlawi has started really well," says former England midfielder Glenn Hoddle. "He's playing like a left winger."

A display of unity from Saudi Arabia pre kick-off.
A display of unity from Saudi Arabia before kick-off

6.05PM: Salem Al-Dawsari will be such a key player for Saudi Arabia tonight. The attacking midfielder played against Cristiano Ronaldo in La Liga last month and scored for his country against Greece.

6.01PM: And we're underway. The first of the 64 games at the 21st World Cup kicks off after the first blast of the whistle of Argentine referee Nestor Pitana.

6PM: No player from either side plays their football outside their home country, with Saudi Arabia fielding seven players from champions Al-Hilal

5.57PM: A reminder of that goal by Al-Owairan.


5.51PM: A reminder that Saudi Arabia are chasing only their third ever win at the finals. Their last victory came in 1994 when they beat Belgium thanks to that goal from Saeed Al-Owairan.

5.47PM: Fahad Muwallad was pushing hard for a start but he has to be content with a place on the bench. Expect Pizzi to call on the Al-Ittihad forward as the game opens up. 

5.41PM: Saudi Arabia coach Juan Antonio Pizzi has decided to go with Mohammed Al-Sahlawi as the lone striker despite going eight games without a goal. He scored 16 goals in qualifying but eight of those game against whipping boys East Timor.

5.10 PM: The team lineups are out...

Igor Akinfeev (capt), Mario Fernandes, Ilya Kupetov, Sergey Ignashevich, Iury Gazinsky, Alan Dzagoev, Roman Zobnin, Aleksandr Golovin, Yury Zhirkov, Alexander Samedov, Fedor Smolov
Coach: Stanislav Cherchesov (RUS)

Abdullah Al-Muaiouf, Osama Hawsawi (capt), Omar Hawsawi, Mohammed Al-Burayk, Yasser Al-Shahrani, Salman Al-Faraj, Yahia Al-Shehri, Abdullah Otayf, Taiseer Al-Jassam, Salem Al-Dawsari, Mohammed Al-Sahlawi


5.00PM MOSCOW: So the big kick-off is less than an hour away.
The Green Falcons are set to get their World Cup campaign under way against hosts Russia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.
The eyes of the world are on Juan Antonio Pizzi’s players as they seek to cause a shock and get their quest to make the knockout stages for the first time since 1994 off to a great start.
Outside the stadium Arab News reporter Gary Meenaghan met lots of Saudi Arabia fans excited about the clash, one that could determine whether the side makes it through Group A.

This is Saudi Arabia's fifth appearance at the World Cup finals and their first since 2006. The high point was a run to the last 16 in 1994 which was achieved on the back of group wins over Morocco and Belgium, the Green Falcons' only wins at the finals in 13 matches. 

The Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrived in Moscow on Thursday to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin and attend the opening ceremony of the World Cup.

The crown prince was greeted at the airport by the Russian FIFA World Cup mascot where he signed a commemorative ball. Putin told the crown prince at their meeting in Moscow that he was happy to see him at the opening of the World Cup.

'We want to make Saudi Arabia proud': Pizzi promises better showing against Egypt

Updated 21 June 2018

'We want to make Saudi Arabia proud': Pizzi promises better showing against Egypt

  • Saudi Arabia cannot progress from Group A even if they defeat Egypt in their final game on Monday
  • Wednesday’s overall performance was much improved, yet a lack of penetrative passing was obvious

ROSTOV-ON-DON: “Keeping possession of the ball seems to be the absolute and most important thing, but then when you sometimes find issues in getting the ball into your opponent’s half, you have to find other movements and ways of doing that,” said Oscar Tabarez after watching his lackluster Uruguay rely on a solitary Luis Suarez goal to eliminate Saudi Arabia from the World Cup. 
Tabarez was talking about his own team’s struggles, yet the assessment is considerably more applicable to the Green Falcons, who dominated possession and retained the ball with ease in midfield, yet for the second match running looked absolutely bereft of ideas in the final third. With Uruguay and Russia now on six points, Saudi Arabia cannot progress from Group A even if they defeat Egypt in their final game on Monday.
The Green Falcons coach Juan Antonio Pizzi confirmed he intends to stay at the helm of the side for the long-haul, yet is only too aware that the potential of this team is being hamstrung by its inability to score. He called it “our weakness”, adding that his side enjoyed “good ball possession, but no effectiveness”. They, he said, did not have the sufficient “weapons or tools” to equalize.
Pizzi’s side have found the net now just twice in their past five games and against Uruguay managed only three shots on target in 90 minutes — two of which came in added time and were so tame they would hardly have troubled the opposition goalkeeper Fernando Muslera had he been relaxing at his far post sipping a drink. In the 5-0 defeat to Russia last week, they failed to muster a single shot on target. 
Wednesday’s overall performance was much improved, yet a lack of penetrative passing was obvious. One passage of play in the opening exchanges saw Saudi Arabia complete 16 passes untroubled without the ball entering the opposition penalty box. When Uruguay finally won possession, they required only four quick exchanges to find Edinson Cavani on the left wing drilling the ball across the front of goal. 
“I don’t share that assessment,” said Pizzi, when it was put to him that his team was too slow to attack. “We played at the speed that was necessary. We need to be accurate, but if you step up the speed you lose accuracy with your passes. We had control of the game and that was why.”
Striker Mohammed Al-Sahlawi had been the focal point of much criticism from Turki Al-Sheikh, the head of Saudi’s General Sports Authority, after the Russia “fiasco” and was dropped from the side against Uruguay. So too was goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf, another who Al-Sheikh name-checked as having been at fault.
Pizzi, asked whether the scathing assessment from his bosses had forced his hand when it came to team selection, calmly dismissed the suggestion. He also ruled out the notion that administrative issues between the players and the country’s football federation had caused unrest in his squad.
“I have a list of 23 players here and they are all available to play. We are here together and pushing in the same direction. 
“I wanted — and still want — to make the Saudi Arabian people feel proud of our energy and the desire we show in matches. Unfortunately we were unable to do that against Russia and will be playing our next match without any hope of progressing. I hope now they will feel a little more proud even though we are out of the World Cup,” he said.