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Dublin: 2 °C Sunday 15 December, 2019

The 22-year-old attracting Premier League interest who lit up today's World Cup opener

Aleksandr Golovin has the potential to be a star of the tournament.

Russia's Aleksandr Golovin (L) vies with Saudi Arabia's Osama Hawsawi during the opening match of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Moscow.
Russia's Aleksandr Golovin (L) vies with Saudi Arabia's Osama Hawsawi during the opening match of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Moscow.
Image: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

THERE WERE TWO players who particularly stood out in Russia’s emphatic 5-0 win over a hapless Saudi Arabia outfit in today’s World Cup opener.

The first was Denis Cheryshev, the 27-year-old Villarreal player.

Cheryshev only came on as a substitute for the injured Alan Dzagoev, with the CSKA Moscow midfielder unfortunate to pull his hamstring early on.

Yet Cheryshev made a swift impact, brilliantly blasting home a well-worked move just before half-time and then producing a sublime finish for Russia’s fourth in second-half stoppage time.

Given that Cheryshev spent over a decade at Real Madrid, albeit mainly as a youth and reserve team player, it was perhaps no surprise that his quality was apparent against a team with 20 out of 23 squad members plying their trade in the Saudi Arabian league, whose quality is hardly on a par with the top European competitions.

But there was another player on the pitch who was arguably even more impressive than Cheryshev and at 22, has greater potential to go far in the game.

Playing in front of President Vladimir Putin and an expectant host nation, if Aleksandr Golovin was nervous, he certainly didn’t show it.

It must be stated that Russia were playing against Saudi Arabia, who are the second worst team in the competition in 67th place according to the Fifa rankings. There is a caveat though — the Russians in 70th position are supposedly the worst, which is an indication of the flawed nature of such systems.

Saudi Arabia today certainly made a case for themselves being the worst team competing in Russia, with a generous defence frequently helping the hosts to run riot.

And while he was allowed plenty of time and space, no matter the context, Golovin has an absolute wand of a right foot.

He produced two glorious crosses for the first and third goals, before the icing on the cake — a beautiful curling free kick in the dying moments that found the back of the net and added to the feel-good atmopshere at the Stadion Luzhniki in Moscow.

Source: SportVideosMM/YouTube

The youngster, who in addition to his eye for a pass possesses good pace and dribbling ability, will face stiffer tests, but he has the ability to hurt better teams than the Saudis.

While it is still obviously early days, there were signs he has the potential to be the tournament’s breakout star á la James Rodriguez in Brazil four years ago.

He has been a player of great promise for some time, honing his skills playing futsal as a youngster. He joined his current club CSKA Moscow in 2012, winning the Uefa European U17 Championship with Russia a year later and also helping his country finish second in the Uefa European U19 Championship in 2015, while breaking into his club side as early as the 2015-16 campaign.

Despite his young age, the talented attacking midfielder already has 20 caps and three goals for Russia at senior level.

In addition, Golovin is coming off a decent season at club level, with CSKA Moscow finishing second behind city rivals Lokomotiv. He made 38 appearances in all, scoring seven goals, and featuring in both the Champions League and Europa League, scoring an eye-catching free kick in the 4-1 loss to Arsenal at the Emirates back in March.

It will be no surprise to learn that even before today’s game, the £10 million-rated player has been linked with moves to a number of clubs, including Chelsea, Arsenal and Juventus.

And if he can maintain his current level of performance over the next few weeks, then surely he won’t be at CSKA for much longer.

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Paul Fennessy

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