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Russia crushes Saudi Arabia 5-0 in World Cup opener

Russia players Denis Cheryshev and Ilya Kutepov (3) celebrate against Saudi Arabia in Group A play during the FIFA World Cup 2018 Thursday in Russia. Tim Groothuis/Witters Sport via USA TODAY Sports

MOSCOW—Russia launched the World Cup party in spectacular style when they thrashed a feeble Saudi Arabia 5-0 in the tournament's opening match on Thursday to give the host nation the lift they desperately needed after a nine-month winless run.

Substitute Denis Cheryshev scored two brilliant goals after Yury Gazinsky had headed the World Cup's first after 12 minutes.

Artem Dzyuba was also on target a minute after coming on as a 70th-minute substitute and Aleksandr Golovin completed a memorable day by smashing in a free kick with the last action of the game.

The result equalled the best in a World Cup opening game—Brazil beat Mexico 5-0 in Geneva in 1954—and watching Russian President Vladimir Putin wasted no time in phoning coach Stanislav Cherchesov to congratulate him.

"We are not getting ahead of ourselves. We saw that we are on the right track but we should forget this game and concentrate on the next one," Cherchesov said after ending a seven-game winless run in emphatic style.

Constantly criticized in the ragged build-up games, Cherchesov had promised improvement once the phoney war was over and his energetic players duly delivered.

"We were tighter, more disciplined, more mature," he said. "To be good is one thing, to be good at the right time in the right place is another."

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