Prodigy Aleksandr Golovin, unlikely star Denis Cheryshev key Russia's dream start
Saudi Arabia did all they could to allow Russia to look solid. Juan Antonio Pizzi's side didn't manage to threaten Igor Akinfeev's goal and were sloppy in defence to let the World Cup hosts score five easy goals en route to a 5-0 win; Russia's first win in the last eight matches.
Took their chances. Used their physical advantage to score two headers from set pieces, looked in control of the midfield without even having most of the ball (just 39 percent possession).
The Russians didn't let the visitors have any shots on goal but still looked shaky in defence on a few occasions. Slow centre-back partnership led to at least three half-chances for the Saudis due to poor positional play.
Manager rating (out of 10):
7 -- Stanislav Cherchesov definitely knew the weakest area of the Saudi team: the heart of the defence. They've been letting in goals from that zone from high-stature players for the past year with ease, and Russia did the same scoring two headers, including the opener. An inclusion of Ilya Kutepov at the back was questionable, although his belief in Yuri Gazinski (another not so obvious inclusion) surely paid off.
Player ratings (1-10, with 10 the best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Igor Akinfeev, 6 -- Didn't have much to do. No shots at his goal, no punches, no runs out, not even high claims.
DF Mario Fernandes, 6 -- Won most of his duels on the right, as his physical superiority compared to his opponents was very well on sight. Didn't go forward as much as he usually does, concentrating on his defensive duties.
DF Sergey Ignashevich, 6 -- Looked solid positionally and even demonstrated good high pressing -- no more jokes about his respectable age (38).
DF Ilya Kutepov, 4 -- Kept the status of the weakest link in Russia's defence despite having a 38-year-old teammate playing next to him. Made three positional errors, which could potentially lead to goals against better opposition.
DF Yury Zhirkov, 6 -- Made four tackles, won 13 of 16 duels on his left flank. Wasn't that involved in attack but that wasn't really needed from him on the day.
MF Alan Dzagoev, 6 -- Made a good start looking a boss in midfield and interacting with his CSKA teammate Aleksandr Golovin. Unfortunately, lasted only 24 minutes after pulling his hamstring.
MF Roman Zobnin, 6 -- Tireless worker in midfield. Made one assist, six tackles and was everywhere, allowing Russia to look so much better in terms of mobility.
MF Aleksandr Samedov, 6 -- Was unnoticed for most of the game other than one key pass, but lost the most of his duels in midfield.
MF Yuri Gazinsky, 6 -- Was somewhat a surprise inclusion in the starting XI but took his chance, scoring the opener with a header.
MF Aleksandr Golovin, 8 -- Man of the match for me. Looked to be the one who could make the difference for Russia from the start. Made two assists on headers scored by Gazinskiy and Dzyuba. Scored a great free kick to make the score 5-0. Covered the most distance of all players on the pitch -- 12.70 km.
FW Fedor Smolov, 4 -- Very poor display from a striker who finished as the top goalscorer in the Russian Premier League in 2 of the last 3 seasons. Offered nothing in attack, was inactive with his pressing and didn't help the defence much. Should be happy to last 70 minutes on the pitch.
MF Denis Cheryshev, 8 --The 27-year-old Villarreal winger wasn't hoping for much game time at the World Cup but now he'll definitely start at least two more games. Replaced the injured Dzagoev and was the liveliest player on the team, a constant threat down his left wing and scored two goals. Was named the official man of the match.
MF Daler Kuzyaev, 6 -- Brought in for the tired Samedov and did the job that was required. Was good with his pressing and carried the ball forward on a few occasions.
FW Artem Dzyuba, 7 -- Came on in the 71st minute, scored in the 72nd. Was such a contrast from Smolov, whom he replaced, being better than his teammate in every component mentioned above.
Artur Petrosyan is a Russian journalist based in Moscow. Twitter: @arturpetrosyan