Aleksandr Golovin, Russia’s new shining star
By Igor Borunov with Russia
Attacking midfielder Aleksandr Golovin was touted as a potential star at the 2018 FIFA World Cup™ long before the start of the tournament, and the 22-year-old certainly did not disappointment in the Opening Match against Saudi Arabia, when he showcased all his talent in an outstanding display. And while never wise to rush to judgement after just one game, we looked in detail at Golovin’s performance to get an idea of what we can expect in Russia’s crucial next fixture against Egypt.
1-0: Golovin, who finds a pocket of space after a defender fell over, swings over an inch-perfect cross from the left wing for Yuri Gazinsky to head home.
2-0: Golovin injects a burst of pace, wins the ball on the edge of the Saudi penalty area and finds Roman Zobnin, who passes to the unmarked Denis Cheryshev, who finishes superbly after cutting in past two defenders.
3-0: He puts in another sublime cross into the box, this time from the right. Artem Dzyuba’s header nestles in the back of the net.
4-0: This was the only goal Golovin had no direct involvement in, even though he managed to get out of Cheryshev’s path in time, as the latter lined up a stunning volley into the bottom corner.
5-0: It is deep into added time and Golovin is still driving forward. This time turning from creator to finisher, he wins a free-kick and curls a wonderful shot around the wall into the corner.
Alongside the goal and assists, in general Golovin was at the heart of everything Russia did well in the Opening Match:
- He completed more successful passes than anyone else in the team (27). No one used the ball better than him in the Opening Match.
- He delivered the most crosses into the penalty area (3), two of which led to goals.
- He made three successful dribbles out of four attempts; only Denis Cheryshev, the Sbornaya’s other hero, did better with five out of six.
- He created five goalscoring opportunities, the highest from a Russia or Soviet Union player in a World Cup game since 1970.
- He committed more fouls than anyone on the pitch at the Luzhniki Stadium. Usually, this statistic is cited as a negative, but here it shows how energetic Golovin was in implementing the high press that was key to Russia’s game plan, engaging the opposition in their half of the pitch.
- As a result of that press, he won back possession more than any other player (10).
- Golovin ran further than anyone else on the pitch: 12.7 kilometres, an amazing distance covered.
In his own words
“If anyone didn’t watch the match, they’d say it was easy looking at the scoreline, but this was far from the case. It was hard getting hold of the ball because the Saudis are technically proficient. But in preparing for the game, we knew they might take a few risks, so we looked to catch them with our pressing.
“We’ll concentrate on stopping the entire Egypt team, not just [Mohamed] Salah. They’ve got many excellent players.
“Everyone likes to be praised, but we shouldn’t go over the top because we don’t want it to interfere later on.
“I’ve watched videos of the fans celebrating. Everyone jumping and dancing around, the whole country. I’m happy we were able to do this for Russia.
“The guys congratulated me on my goal and assists, but the most important thing was the work of the team. Our strength is that we’re united.
“We’ve already put our performance against Saudi Arabia behind us and will focus solely on our upcoming game. If we celebrate for too long, we might not be ready.
“I’ve put all transfer rumours to one side, I’m not paying attention to this. The World Cup is going on and I’m playing for the national team; this is all I’m thinking about.”