The opening of the 2018 World Cup was a friendly affair. Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman shook Russian president Vladimir Putin’s hand. The 70,000 in attendance looked on. Most would then have expected a quiet game. A draw seemed on the cards. Perhaps a narrow victory from the hosts.
Russia Still Have Much to Prove
What followed was a disastrous loss for the Saudis. Russia won 5-0. More so, the hosts rarely seemed to push themselves. In fact, Saudi Arabia enjoyed a 60% possession rate. But the team rarely knew what to do with the ball. None of the team’s shots reached the target. And while the attack was inefficient, the defence was prone to careless mistakes.
It’s not Saudi Arabia’s first disappointing defeat in a World Cup. Past losses include an 8-0 hammering at the hands of Germany in 2002.
Those are hard pills to swallow. It will surely affect morale in the locker room. But Saudi Arabia has proven worthy in their qualification campaign. They won their ticket to Russia ahead of Australia, a team with a lot of World Cup experience. Striker Mohammad Al-Sahlawi was joint top scorer with Bayern Munchen’s Robert Lewandowski in the qualifiers. They’re not a poor team. The Saudis have two more games. They should treat them as opportunities to redeem themselves.
Russia won by a large margin to the joy of their fans. But the 5-0 scoreline doesn’t tell the whole story. Yes, the team showed they could score. And yes, they showed they could press high up. But they did so against an awkward opponent. And rarely did the Russians truly impress. The team looked to lack vision and pace. Although, in their defence, such things weren’t perhaps required in a victory that came easily.
The Russians need at least one more victory to advance to the knockout stage. They will face Egypt and Uruguay. Neither of the teams is part of the football elite. But both feature high-class players. The likes of Mohamed Salah and Edinson Cavani will be looking to stamp their name on the tournament.
It was an eventful game for certain. But not one that reveals much about what lies ahead. Both Russia and Saudi Arabia need to improve. Stakes are high and the whole world seems to be watching.