We bring you all the details from the opening World Cup game between Russia and Saudi Arabia
The wait is finally over. The World Cup begins today. Two unfancied teams will take on each other to begin the summer extravaganza. Russia, the host nation, will be making their 4th appearance in World Cup Finals (discounting the ones as USSR). Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, will be a part of the World Cup for the 5th time in their history. Both the teams will enter the tournament with a relatively low weight of expectations on their back.
The Qualification Rounds
Being the hosts, Russia did not go through a qualifying process. An ageing and inexperienced team will instead enter the tournament without carrying much merit. They are on a 5 match winless run with their last win coming over South Korea in 2017. They are currently the lowest ranked team (60) of all the teams taking part in the World Cup.
The Gulf country finished second in the Group B of AFC qualifications, edging out Australia on account of a better goal difference. The final rounds were full of nervy matches with their qualification not secured until the last day. A 1-0 win over Japan in their final match is what it took for their qualification to be sealed.
Since their win over Japan, Saudi Arabia has played a total of 17 games, clearly not lacking match practice.
Venue: Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, 80,000 capacity
Time: 8:30 pm IST (4 pm UK time); the opening ceremony will begin 30 minutes prior
Neither of these teams is expected to qualify from their group. Neither of them possesses the individual or collective quality of Uruguay or Egypt. However, being the hosts, the onus will be on Russia to make a fist of the proceedings.
The impetus will be on the midfield with star men Aleksandr Golovin and Alan Dzagoev expected to pull the strings. Russia prefers a 3-5-1-1 or a 4-4-1-1 formation with both functioning in virtually the same way.
Saudi Arabia will be led by Osama Hawsawi, who will look to keep his team watertight in defence. The scoring burden will fall on the shoulders of on dangerman Al-Sahlawi. In the midfield, Al-Shehri will guide the team’s play using all his experience, having been in the side since 2009 and he is still just 27.
Russia are slight favourites going into the match fans roaring them on, the host nation can never be discounted. Expect this to be a cagey match with both teams preferring to play on the counter.
Who said what?
Russia manager Stanislav Cherchesov stated:
“We have been studying our opponents from day one. There are no weak teams in any of the groups. The first game is important so it will set the tone to a certain extent. We are trying to iron out any kinks we have.”
Score Prediction: 2-1 to Russia