ROSTOV-ON-DON (Reuters) - Russia winger Denis Cheryshev has had a career littered with mishaps but he thrust himself into the limelight with two spectacular goals from the bench in the host nation’s rampant 5-0 win over Saudi Arabia in Thursday’s World Cup opener.
A promising career as a thrusting, speedy winger has been continually interrupted by a series of muscle injuries, which led to him barely featuring for current club Villarreal for 18 months as he went in and out of surgery.
The 27-year-old only made nine starts for the La Liga side last season and was in danger of being left out of the World Cup squad after not starting for the national team for four years and being discarded for last year’s Confederations Cup.
But Cheryshev emphatically seized on the opportunity which Russia midfielder Alan Dzagoev’s injury presented him by producing a mesmerizing piece of skill to dance past two Saudi Arabia defenders in the area before smashing the ball into the roof of the net for Russia’s second goal of the game.
Just as stoppage time was approaching in Moscow he struck again, pinging in the fourth goal with a swipe of the outside of his boot from distance to take the party atmosphere inside the Luzhniki Stadium to the next level.
“I couldn’t have imagined a day like this in my wildest dreams. I’m just happy to have been able to help my team and my family. They have suffered a lot,” Cheryshev told a news conference after being named man of the match in the biggest win in a World Cup opener since 1954.
Cheryshev is one of only two members of Stanislav Cherchesov’s squad to play outside of Russia and he has spent most of his life in Spain, moving to the Iberian peninsular when his father Dmitri signed for Sporting Gijon in 1996.
The winger only made a handful of appearances for Real Madrid but is etched into their history for the wrong reasons after he inadvertently got them thrown out of the King’s Cup in 2015-16 for playing against Cadiz when he was in fact suspended.
He was sent on loan to Valencia and was subjected to humiliating taunts in a game at the Nou Camp from Barcelona fans, who chanted “Cheryshev we love you” for his role in one of their rivals’ most embarrassing episodes in recent memory.
But that incident and his litany of injuries faded into insignificance after he helped fire his country to a remarkable win, their first in nine months.
“I remember his condition before the Confederation’s Cup and compared to his shape now it’s two different people,” added Russia coach Cherchesov.
“He knows it. He thanked me with two goals for helping him to achieve his dream and play at the World Cup.”
Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Christian Radnedge