When you win your first World Cup game by a margin of five goals, blind optimism will inevitable grow amongst supporters. But when you win your first World Cup by a margin of five goals at the very tournament you’re hosting, in front of a whole stadium filled of your own fans and indeed Vladimir Putin, expectations will accordingly go through the roof. It’s easy to forget that, according to FIFA rankings at least, Russia are actually only the 70th-best team in world football right now.
Indeed, while the scoreline was by no means flattering, it was by no means a homage to Russia’s quality either. This team is way off the standard Russian football set for itself at the 2008 European championship; they just so happened to face a Saudi Arabia side that will contest Panama for the least competitive team at this edition of the World Cup. The Middle Eastern nation held their own for a while but eventually succumbed to the will of a superior team and once their confidence began to wane, the floodgates quickly opened.
As easy as Saudi Arabia made it for Russia though, there was one relentless driving force behind a win that already makes the tournament feel like a success for not only the host nation but also fans around the world craving a supply of gorgeous goals. While the biggest share was provided by brace-bagger Denis Cheryshev after coming off as a first-half substitute, the true star of the show was Russia’s offensive dynamo in midfield, Aleksandar Golovin.
Indeed, the attacking midfielder created the most chances of any Russia player, five, completed the most accurate crosses, three, and ranked second for interceptions and tackles, three apiece, while grabbing one goal and two assists in an engine room display that combined elegance and flair with grit and authority. Few players at this World Cup will have such an obvious impact on such a resounding win, even if Saudi Arabia’s lack of quality must be factored into how we judge Golovin’s performance.
And that display comes at a key moment for Golovin, on the backdrop of heavy Premier League interest in his services. The ultimate elite bracket of world footballers is hardly awash with Russian talent but aged 22 and already the stand-out star of the Russian top flight, this World Cup represents perhaps his best chance to move into it – the beautiful game’s greatest tournament always has a knack of transforming careers for those who are just on the cusp of their natural peaks.
Manchester United have been mooted as potential suitors for the young midfielder, alongside Arsenal and Chelsea. But the promising Russian would arguably be a better fit at Tottenham, a team that would suit his energetic style and ability to combine defensive resilience with offensive threat, usually within the same movement. Currently, the Lilywhites are hot on the heels of Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish and the CSKA Moscow star would bring similar qualities to the team – not quite as nimble when running with the ball, but a dynamic creator nonetheless who can help them pick apart well-organised defensive blocks and provide real offensive energy in the middle of the park.
Also valued at just £16.2million by Transfermarkt, he could well prove to be a much cheaper option for Spurs. Although they’ve offered only £15million for Grealish, Villa will surely expect more for one of the most promising young Englishmen around at the minute and the negotiations could go on for much of the summer because of that. Golovin, on the other hand, looks ready to move on and won’t be accompanied by the inflation of price-tags that accompanies English talents.
So, Tottenham fans, which midfielder do you want Pochettino to swoop for this summer? Let us know by voting below…
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