Well, that was fun, exhilarating and somewhat falsifying. But who cares.
If international football has dropped light years behind club football, the World Cup still retains the ability to evoke indescribable emotions. As Miguel Delaney has written, nothing in sport is at this level in terms of feeling. World Cup memories tend to insist that you remember where you were. Often, football fans do.
This will be similar — that romping start by Russia at their home World Cup will linger. The sight of pure childlike joy when Yury Gazinsky opened the scoring. The delight in Artem Dzuyba who lumbered on like an ungraceful giant. That last minute free-kick. Those five goals.
The Real Madrid youth product
It seems there’s nowhere to hide from Real Madrid in the football world. After their dealings have already affected (or not) the Spain national team, here was one of their youth products threatening to become a star of the World Cup.
Before now, Denis Cheryshev was known for being the man who caused Real Madrid to be kicked out of the Copa del Rey in 2015. He played when he was meant to be suspended, leading to the Spanish Giants’s ejection from the competition on grounds of player elligibility.
He fit in somewhat nicely after coming on for the hamstrung Alan Dzagoev. I say somewhat because bar those two excellently taken goals, Cheryshev was largely invisible. You can see why Real Madrid did not retain him, and why he doesn’t regularly start for Villarreal.
However, his goals made a huge impact. But apart from that, he didn;t do much to suggest he will adequately replace Dzagoev who must be cursing his luck once more. (Injury ruled Dzagoev out of Euro 2016 and last year’s Confederations Cup).
It was interesting to see just how high Saudi Arabia’s defensive line was. It made it so easy for Russia to catch them on the break. Although, with Juan Antonio Pizzi as their manager — he who managed Chile to the Copa America Centenario title in 2016 — it probably wasn’t all that surprising.
However, the deep line by Russia is probably going to be a mainstay at this World Cup. Although pressing is now a staple in football, it is unlikely that most teams will play a high line — or certainly at least not as high as the one at club football.
Then again, Russia did have a 38-year old Sergei Ignashevich and Yuri Zhirkov, 34, in their backline — so playing a high line was obviously out of the question.
Of the teams at the World Cup, Russia and Saudi Arabia are the lowest ranked by FIFA. One can therefore tend to forget that on the international community, they are actually very powerful.
Nothing said this more than the images of FIFA President Gianni Infantino in the director’s box, with Russia power man Vladimir Putin and Saudi monarch Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on either side of him. In many countries, Infantino would have looked most powerful especially since FIFA organises this football tournament. Not here though.
Expanded World Cup
Looking at how Saudi Arabia was battered despite having more of the ball, one wonders what expansion at the North American 2026 World Cup will do. Potentially, more teams that will be battered???
Exciting show, maybe — but what could that mean for the quality of football on show.