Russia's midfielder Yury Gazinsky (L) celebrates scoring the opening goal with his teammates during the Russia 2018 World Cup Group A football match between Russia and Saudi Arabia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on June 14, 2018. (Photo: AFP)

MOSCOW - Reuters
Host nation Russia lead 2-0 at half-time of World Cup opener

Host nation Russia were in control at half-time against Saudi Arabia in the opening match of the 2018 World Cup on Thursday (Jun 14) after taking a 2-0 lead.

After President Vladimir Putin declared the tournament open at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium, Yury Gazinsky scored the first goal of the tournament with a 12th minute header from Aleksandr Golovin's cross.

Russia suffered a blow when Alan Dzagoev had to leave the field with what appeared to be a pulled hamstring.

With the Saudi team increasingly stretched by Russia's attacking play, Dzagoev's replacement Denis Cheryshev smashed home a shot from short range two minutes before half-time.

Hosts Russia picked stylish striker Fyodor Smolov to lead their attack in Thursday's opening game.

The 28-year-old is considered key to Russia's chances of advancing past the group stage, but he has not scored for his country since the 3-1 loss to France in March.

Sergei Ignashevich, Russia's 38-year-old defender who recently came out of retirement, also started as the hosts looked to snap a run of seven matches without success, stretching back to last October.

Saudi Arabia kept faith with the majority of the team that lost by a single goal to Germany in their final warm-up in Leverkusen, making three changes to last Friday's starting lineup.

Playmaker Yahya Al-Shehri was expected to be key to Saudi Arabia's hopes of being able to dictate the pace of the game.

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