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World Cup, day one: the things you might have missed

Russia Saudi Arabia

Russia got off to a flier in the opening game of their own tournament – and there's also been some fine news for a man we all feared may miss out 

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1. Saudi Arabia’s slapstick defending

First came Taisir Al-Jassim's unfortunate tumble, which allowed Yury Gazinsky a completely free header to open the scoring at Russia 2018. Then there was the synchronised slides of a pair of Saudi defenders who were utterly fooled by Denis Cheryshev’s neat touch, flying past him to give the Russian substitute space to lash the ball home for 2-0.

For all the endeavour that Saudi Arabia showed early on, some woeful play at the back completely undid them – and the hosts gratefully took advantage in their easy 5-0 triumph. 

2. Sterling effort from ITV

Snazzy studio, decent theme and statement signing of Gary Neville front and centre: ITV made a good first impression.

A particular highlight of the two-and-a-half hours of build-up to kick-off was a considered analysis of Raheem Sterling’s highs and lows, with the player himself opening up on his troubled past. Compared to the deeply unpleasant screeching of one or two tabloids, ITV came off as even-handed and insightful. Well played.

3. This Charming Man

Forgive us: we thought Russia had booked Robbie Williams for this shindig. But while the 44-year-old does appear to be slowly morphing into the rather charmless Morrissey these days, those in attendance at the Luzhniki Stadium seemed happy enough to party like it's 2000 during his brief pre-match set.

Brief it may have been, joyfully, although there was still time for our dear national treasure to flip the bird at a nearby camera for no apparent reason. Vlad will see you in the morning, Rob.  

4. Mo Salah, mo problems

Mo Salah Egypt

It's been touch and go ever since Sergio Ramos laid the smackdown in the Champions League final, but Mohamed Salah will be fit for Egypt's Group A opener. Huzzah! That's according to boss Hector Cuper, who said the Pharaohs' star man is doing "very well indeed". 

"He's recovered very quickly," beamed the Argentine. "We'll see how it goes today. I can almost assure you 100% he'll play unless something dramatic happens today or tomorrow." Quite whether he'll be 100% against a mean-looking Uruguay remains to be seen, but the 25-year-old will be champing at the bit to have a crack at that haphazard Saudi backline.

5. Alan's not available

Russia went into this tournament lamenting a long list of injured stars – centre-backs Viktor Vasin and Georgy Dzhikiya both suffered pre-tournament knee knacks, and so did leading light Alexander Kokorin. Hopes, then, were resting on the 27-year-old Alan Dzagoev for inspiration in this limited team; the kind that helped him finish as joint-top scorer at Euro 2012 with three goals as Russia reached the semis.

But while Dzegoev's first game of that tournament brought him two goals against the Czech Republic, his opener in 2018 was anything but joyful. The CSKA Moscow playmaker lasted only 24 minutes of Russia's curtain-raiser before pulling up with a hamstring tweak – an injury that will almost certainly rule him out for the rest of this tournament. 

6. Griezmann making his mind up

It's not quite LeBron James and The Decision, but Antoine Griezmann declared on Wednesday that he'll be revealing his club future via sponsor Movistar at 21:15 CET. There's no real indication either way on whether the 27-year-old will be an Atletico Madrid or Barcelona player next season, although French reports suggest he'll be signing a new contract in the Spanish capital rather than jumping ship. 

Other stories in Spain claim Griezmann has recorded two videos for each scenario. Either way, it'll all come out later on, he says. "You'll be fed up with the comments saying if I'm going, if I'm staying, how much they give me, how much they don't give me," parped the France star. "But the truth is that I'm going to say now."

Words: Alex Reid, Joe Brewin

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