Russia winger Denis Cheryshev said he “could never have dreamed” of his two-goal performance for the hosts in the opening match of the World Cup after a long struggle back from injury.
The former Real Madrid player scored twice in a convincing 5-0 defeat of Group A opponents Saudi Arabia after coming on as a first-half substitute at the Luzhniki Stadium.
“There are no words to express what I’m feeling right now. I’m happy we won and happy I could help my team,” said Cheryshev.
“I could never have dreamed of anything like this. I felt very happy when I knew I would be here in the squad but I never dreamed of anything like this.”
The 27-year-old’s career has been blighted by a succession of injuries, resulting in Fabio Capello overlooking him for the 2014 World Cup. He also missed out on Euro 2016.
His last appearance for Russia before a March recall dated back to November 2015, an absence of more than two years from international duty.
“I’m happy for the team and for my own family. They’ve suffered so much with my injures and I think they’ve really deserved this,” he said.
“I’m happy we’ve won but we shouldn’t stop there. Any moment you relax you can be knocked out so you have to keep working and looking forward.
“I would like to carry on at this level so that we succeed as a team.”
With Alan Dzagoev now sidelined and his cause bolstered by a man-of-the-match display against the Saudis, Cheryshev is in line to start Russia’s next game against Egypt in Saint Petersburg on June 19.
- Coach’s decision’ –
But he had no issue with being left out of the line-up for the opening game by coach Stanislav Cherchesov.
“I always respect the coach’s decision. I have no right to be angry or upset even if I come on just for a minute. I can only give 100 percent.”
Both of his goals served as a reminder of the ability that convinced Real to offer him a place in their youth academy before he was even a teenager.
His time at Real was mostly remembered though for a registration error that saw the club booted out of the 2015-16 Copa del Rey after he was allowed to play despite being suspended.
He missed the final months of that season with injury and was again sidelined for much of the 2016-17 campaign before working his way back into World Cup contention at Villarreal this term.
His first goal against Saudi Arabia showcased his talent when fit, as he brilliantly lifted the ball past two closing defenders before rifling into the roof of the net.
“It all happened very quickly, the pass was a little bit too short so I did what I had to do, the defenders slid and I just tried to score,” Cheryshev explained.
His second was an exquisite half-volley from the edge of the area with the outside of his left foot, as he latched onto a knockdown by fellow goalscorer Artem Dzyuba.
“We spent time working on that during training sessions. I was trying to run with Dzyuba. He won a header and I was in control and just shot. I had no time to think.”