June 15, 2018

Horse 2421 - Five Asterisk Saudi Arabia Sunk By Russian Competency

Russia 5 - Saudi Arabia 0
Gazinsky 12'
Cheryshev 43'
Dzyuba 71' 
Cheryshev 91'
Golovin 94'

The tradition of the home side of the tournament winning the opening game of the tournament has been continued in most emphatic fashion as Russia tore apart Saudi Arabia in a 5-0 demolition job. Not since the annexation of the Crimea have we seen Russians do a job so competently and with such little resistance. Before the World Cup, Russia hadn't won a game since November last year and although that isn't the best recipe for success, they needn't have worried as Saudi Arabia haven't won a match at the World Cup proper since 25th Jun 1994 when they beat Morocco. That's so long ago that many of the Saudi Arabian players hadn't even been born yet.

Having seen Saudi Arabia in the Asian Cup qualifiers, I can say that they play dogged football but if they happen to be losing, then suddenly turn into a bunch of cheating thugs. This tactic works in the Asian Cup and in the qualifiers where the standard of refereeing isn't up to par and where the enticement of millions of petrodollars doesn't seem to work. No, if you want to use petrodollars and bribery to work at the World Cup, you need next level corruption and bribery to host the tournament; which is why the 2018 World Cup is in Russia and why the 2022 World Cup will be in Qatar despite it being completely unsuitable to hold a tournament and despite them not actually fulfilling the requirements for either having or building the minimum number of stadia.
You can expect a lot of falling over to extract free kicks, or of they are not in possession of the ball, a lot of tackles which would usually belong on a rugby pitch. However, as we had a referee who frequently waved "play on" and didn't fall for the Saudis' falling over, they soon learnt that this was useless and stopped it pretty early in the match.

As a fun aside, as this was the match between the combined least democratic nations in the history of the World Cup (according to the democracy index published by The Economist¹), then as a result we saw lots of camera shots of very wealthy shieks in the telecast, who will alternated between calm serenity to abject screaming. There was also quite a lot of airtime given to who I can only presume was King Saud of Saudi Arabia and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who wore a business suit because sitting on a horse while not wearing a shirt is not advisable. The not wearing of shirts would be normally strictly limited to hordes of pasty white drunk Europeans, except that this tournament being held in Russia is likely to have you arrested for homophobic reasons rather than public drunkenness. Walking around in June with a bottle of vodka yelling "Jingle Bells, you suck!" isn't usually considered as Christmas carolling but this being Russia, even Snow White thought that 7up was a soft drink before she discovered Smirnoff².

As for the actual match itself, Saudi Arabia sat very high on the pitch, which usually works in Asia because  they can camp in the opposition's half quite effectively but as Russia is a European team, those tactics went out in about 1986 and were completely worked out by Italia '90. Russia were not only content to have the Saudis sit that high against them but welcomed it because Saudi Arabia is more toothless than Grandpa after he's put his dentures in a glass of water beside the bed. Russia would have played a hold and contain type game except there was nothing to hold or contain and they were frequently able to just walk up and steal the ball away. The number of completed passes was skewed heavily in Saudi Arabia's favour because they donkeyed the ball about so very very much.

The first of Russia's goals came off of the end of a curled cross which was duly headed in by Gazinsky. The second was caused by a complete brain explosion when Cheryshev basically stood still as three Saudi players slid around him as though they were children on an ice rink. The third goal was practically identical to the first when Dzyuba added to the tally. The fifth goal was one of those things that strikers pull late in the game because they know that if they miss, it soaks up the time; the fact that it went in merely served to prove the complete ineptitude of Saudi Arabia at this level - Cheryshev got his brace with an incredibly sharp strike. The fifth came off of a dead ball opportunity caused by inept Saudi falling over which brought down Cheryshev; which was slotted in by Golovin who curled it in around the wall from 22 yards.

5-0 is the sort of scoreline where you expect to see the cliché "Five Star" in the newspaper but on this occasion, the ***** aren't stars but asterisks for the list of everything wrong with Saudi Arabia. I honestly haven't seen a team play this badly since North Korea lost 7-0 against Portugal in 2010.
We learnt nothing new from this match at all. What this result did was give Russia three points and a useful bank of goals which might help in the goal difference statistics.

Aside 1: I am deeply disappointed with the lack of Cyrillic ad boards in this tournament. As this is Russia, we should expect to see something exotic. I think that the only real advertising that I saw in Cyrillic script was a McDonald's advert which I'm assuming said "Lovin' It" in Russian. I honestly think that I saw more adverts in Simplified Chinese, which although it is cool, just doesn't seem very Russians to me.

Aside 2: Saudi Arabia's kit was an all green Nike kit with the only things that identified it as theirs was the national patch on the left hand side. Everything about it was so generic that it could have easily been a high school football kit. Russia's was far far better as it's Adidas kit kind of recalled the ex-Soviet kits of the past.

Aside 3: I am also disappointed that there is no standard set of kit letters and numbers. A tournament like this should be defined by the unity of graphics that are specific to the tournament. The English Premier League, the English Championship and lower leagues, the AFL, NRL and A-League in Australia all have their own league wide set of kits and numbers and for the World Cup not to, is a blind spot on the biggest stage in the biggest sporting event in the world.

¹The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Index of Democracy - https://www.economist.com/media/pdf/DEMOCRACY_INDEX_2007_v3.pdf
²The effect is shattering

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