Saudi Arabia World Cup campaign on the brink after Russia rout Green Falcons 5-0

Russia defender Andrey Semenov celebrates his team's fourth goal as Saudi Arabia's Mohammed Al-Breik looks on. (AFP)
Updated 15 June 2018
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Saudi Arabia World Cup campaign on the brink after Russia rout Green Falcons 5-0

  • Green Falcons enjoy 61 percent possession but ship five goals
  • The team suffer their second heaviest defeat in World Cup finals history

Saudi Arabia went into the match three places higher than Russia in the FIFA rankings and confident they could get the win that would hopefully set up a place in the knockout stage. 

It took just 45 minutes for both states of affairs to be shown up as fanciful in the extreme. In terms of what Juan Antonio Pizzi would have wanted to avoid in the first half — not giving possession away, remaining calm in defence, and keeping a cleansheet — it is fair to say it could not have gone much worse.

Goals from Yuri Gazinskiy and Denis Cheryshev during the first period laid bare the gulf in class and a Artem Dzyuba strike, another from Cheryshev and a Aleksandr Golovin free-kick in the second period was no more than the hosts deserved. 

The Green Falcons come into the match on the back of three straight defeats — to Germany, Italy and Peru. But there were enough positives from those matches for the side to take the field today hopeful they could upset their Russian hosts. That was not a bad attitude considering Russia went into the clash winless in seven matches. 

But after the opening cagey exchanges — during which neither side committed men forward in any numbers — Stanislav Cherchesov’s side betrayed any nerves they may have been feeling and grew in confidence, finding space between the Saudi Arabia midfield and defence with too much ease. 

If that annoyed Pizzi then there’s little doubt the way the opener came would have dismayed him more. Golovin put in an in-swinging cross that should have been dealt with by the Green Falcons’ defence, but Osama Hawsawi and Co were statuesque as Yuri Gazinskiy headed past the stranded Abdullah Al-Muaiouf in the Saudi goal. 

It was the perfect nerve-settler for the hosts and just the start the cautious Pizzi was wanting to avoid. 

It may have only been the 11th minute but the goal had been coming and soon after Russia almost got a second. Fedor Smolov’s shot was deflected and looped into the air, but Al-Muaiouf managed to claw it away. 

On the odd occasion Saudi Arabia did get into the final third Mohammed Al-Sahlawi looked isolated, in stark contrast to the Russians who attacked on the counter and in increasing numbers. 

The lack of composure on the ball and, even more glaringly, a holding midfielder was all too clear to see. Both combined to gift Russia their two-goal cushion heading into the break. 

The Green Falcons lost the ball in their own half, the hosts broke from deep with Roman Zobnin playing in Denis Cheryshev, who showed two good feet to dink it over the sliding body of Mohammed Al-Burayk before smashing high past Al-Muaiouf. 

It was all too easy for the side that had been written off by a lot of their fans before the kick-off, but the 2-0 scoreline did not flatter the hosts. 

After the break it was much the same story. Saudi Arabia looking comfortable in possession but played everything in front of the Russia backline and were unable to hurt them — a Salman Al-Faraj header that drifted wide of the post the most they had too show for all their forays into the Russian half. 

When substitute Dzyuba headed in Russia's third with just his second touch, the worry was that it would signal for the floodgates to open. Those fears were well founded as, on 90 minutes, Cheryshev found himslef on the edge of the box before hitting an absolutely fine shot on the outside of his foot which flew high into the back of the net.

Just four minutes later Golovin scored with a brilliant free-kick, the ease with which he stroked the ball matched only by the ease with which the Russians found space throughout the 90 minutes.

Saudi Arabia went into the match with hope, they walked off the pitch in despair knowing the second round is all but now out of reach for them. They now have four days to pick themselves up and prepare for their next clash against group favorites Uruguay, who get their campaign started against Egypt today. 


Heartbreak for Mohamed Salah and Egypt as Russia all but secure last-16 spot

Updated 19 June 2018
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Heartbreak for Mohamed Salah and Egypt as Russia all but secure last-16 spot

ST. PETERSBURG: Russia scored three goals in a 15-minute span early in the second half to set up a 3-1 win over Egypt on Tuesday, moving the host nation to the brink of the World Cup’s knockout stage.
Mohamed Salah won and converted a penalty for a consolation goal on his return from injury but Egypt’s first World Cup in 28 years could be over in barely five days following a second straight loss.
Ahmed Fathi poked the ball into his own net — the fifth own-goal of the tournament — to put Russia ahead in the 47th minute. Then Denis Cheryshev and Artyom Dzyuba scored in quick succession to leave Russia on course for a victory that followed up a 5-0 opening-night win over Saudi Arabia.
It was Cheryshev’s third goal of the World Cup, putting him tied with Cristiano Ronaldo at the top of the scoring chart.
Russia’s place in the round of 16 will be assured if Uruguay wins or draws against the Saudis on Wednesday. Those two scenarios would also eliminate Egypt, which started with a 1-0 loss to Uruguay.
The hopes of 100 million Egyptians were raised when Salah was selected in the starting lineup, the Liverpool forward making his comeback after 3 1/2 weeks out with damaged ligaments in his left shoulder after a tangle with Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos in the Champions League final.
Salah trotted out for his pre-match warmup to roars from Egypt fans, who at times appeared to outnumber their Russian counterparts. They shouted every time Salah’s face flashed up on the big screen and when his name was announced before kickoff.
Yet from the start, it was clear that Salah was staying out of anything too physical and there was no concerted effort from his Egypt teammates to pick him out each time. He didn’t touch the ball until the seventh minute.
He did win the penalty — confirmed by the video assistant referee after Salah was pulled down by Roman Zobnin. He converted it in the 73rd minute, but it wasn’t enough. Egypt is still without a victory in six World Cup matches.
Russia is nearly assured of advancing from the group stage for the first time since the Soviet era.
Cheryshev, who entered the World Cup as a fringe player, is proving lethal in front of goal, with his latest a side-footed effort from close range from Mario Fernandes’ cross in the 59th. Dzyuba’s goal was more direct, the striker chesting down a long ball from defender Ilya Kutepov, beating his marker and curling home a low finish.