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. 


England celebrate World Cup triumph with young fans

Updated 15 July 2019
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England celebrate World Cup triumph with young fans

  • After 44 years of trying, England became world champions with a stunning victory over New Zealand

LONDON: England revelled in their first World Cup triumph on Monday, soaking up the adulation of a disbelieving nation after one of the most extraordinary finishes to a cricket match in history.

The host country, after 44 years of trying, finally became world champions with a stunning victory over New Zealand at Lord’s, triumphing on superior boundary count after both the match and the additional Super Over shootout ended with the scores level.

The game was watched by the biggest audience in a generation, with around 30,000 packed into Lord’s, thousands congregating in front of a big screen in Trafalgar Square in central London and the first free-to-air terrestrial coverage in 14 years.

Hundreds of children flooded across the outfield at the Oval — across town from Lord’s — to help Eoin Morgan’s men celebrate their historic triumph. The south London ground was where England launched their World Cup campaign with a victory over South Africa way back on May 30.

Many of the young children at the Oval were wearing the kit of the All Stars junior program run by the England and Wales Cricket Board and others were dressed in their school uniforms.

As “Happy” by Pharrell Williams blared out, the youngsters were delighted to catch sight of England stars such as Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Jofra Archer and flocked toward their new heroes.

It was a more modest celebration than the open-topped bus parade through the streets of London for England’s 2005 Ashes victors but was in keeping with the push to sell the game to a new generation.

“I don’t know if it’s sunk in yet but coming down here and seeing what a small portion of the support we’ve had feels about it, the kids, the adults, the energy they all had for what they saw yesterday is amazing,” said man-of-the-match Stokes.

England coach Trevor Bayliss, drafted in with the aim of winning the World Cup following their miserable first-round exit at the 2015 tournament, said: “I heard some of the young guys in the team say the 2005 Ashes inspired them to bigger and better things.

“I think they are very proud they’ve been put in a position where they can hopefully inspire a few of the next generation.”

On Sunday the Queen sent her congratulations to England and the Royal Mail postal service announced it would issue a series of special stamps and decorate 15 post boxes to celebrate both the World Cup win and England’s victory at the 2017 Women’s edition of the tournament.

Prime Minister May, a lifelong cricket fan, was due to host the team at a reception.

“Yesterday (Sunday) was a brilliant performance by a brilliant team,” said May. “They showed flair, courage and an absolute determination to become world champions.

“The achievement, delivered in such a thrilling style on home soil, will live forever in our sporting history.”

“It’s also exciting to think just how many children will be inspired by this victory to pick up a bat for the first time and hopefully become the great cricketers and World Cup winners of tomorrow,” she added.

“We must build on this success.”