World Cup 2018: Russia win first two games, but are they good or lucky?

Russia were expected to be one of the worst sides ever to host the World Cup - they've proven a few people wrong.

Coming into the tournament as the lowest-ranked nation and in dismal form, they were the "butt of jokes" and "seemed so hopeless and hapless", according to 5 live's Pat Nevin.

But two games in - a 5-0 win over Saudi Arabia and a 3-1 victory over Egypt - they have had the best start of any host side in World Cup history.

"It is not an accident that we have two wins under our belt, we have a group of solidarity," said coach Stanislav Cherchesov.

So - good, lucky or both?

'A miracle is needed'

Russia came into the World Cup on the back of seven friendlies without a win, a run dating back to October, and ranked 70th in the world

Confidence was so low that a sports writer with said only "a miracle" could save Russia from crashing out at the group stage.

They even had to call 38-year-old centre-back Sergei Ignashevich out of international retirement following several injuries to their back line.

But this is what they have gone on to achieve in just two games:

  • Russia have had the best start of any World Cup hosts in history. Their eight goals in two games matches Italy in 1934 - but the Azzurri conceded twice.
  • Stanislav Cherchesov's side have scored as many goals in 180 minutes as Spain did on their way to winning the 2010 tournament.
  • They are practically guaranteed a place in the last 16, barring a series of unlikely high-scoring results, which would be the first time they have reached the knockout stages since the break-up of the Soviet Union.
  • Their eight goals beats their combined six in the 2002 and 2014 campaigns.

'They were getting battered - they looked average'

Former Scotland winger Pat Nevin on BBC Radio 5 live

Russia were deserved winners against Egypt, without having to be brilliant. They spotted Egypt's weakness and got it right.

They were the butt of jokes, they seemed so hopeless and hapless. They were getting battered in friendlies, they looked average.

They got a fortunate draw and boy they have ridden their luck. Saudi Arabia are one of the worst teams in the tournament, Egypt with an injured Mohamed Salah, who could barely run, was like having 10 men.

Everything was working in their favour but you have to make use of that.

How injury helped Russia

Group A

Russia's group could hardly have been easier. They started off against Saudi Arabia, who are - at 67th - the next lowest ranked team in the tournament.

Next up they faced 45th-ranked Egypt, who have now not won in eight games stretching back to October - and have never won a World Cup match. And if Uruguay, ranked 14th in the world, beat Saudi Arabia on Wednesday (16:00 BST), then Russia will be through before having to face a strong side.

Had they lost their opener, it would have been an eighth game without a win - the worst run in Russia's history. Of their eight goals, only two have been scored by players who started the first game.

Denis Cheryshev scored twice against the Saudis, but was only on the pitch after coming on as a substitute following an injury to Alan Dzagoev.

Artem Dzyuba was a tactical switch and also scored in the opening game. Both players kept their places against Egypt and scored again, alongside an own goal.

Cheryshev is a skilful player for Villarreal but his goalscoring start has come as a surprise to everyone. He had only scored two La Liga goals in the previous two seasons - and had never netted in international football, in 11 attempts.

Russia goalkeeper and captain Igor Akinfeev has only faced one shot in the opening two games, Mohamed Salah's penalty for Egypt, which means he has yet to be forced into a save in open play.

So have Russia been good or lucky? The answer is both.

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