The FIFA World Cup 2018 is warming up to kickstart the season to great expectations of fans the world over and the adrenaline is running high. Over the next month starting June 14, the event will provide fans with pure emotions, joy, heartbreaks, thrilling games and unforgettable goals and moments.
The World Cup opener is between two of the lowest-ranked teams that are participating in the tournament. Host Russia, which qualified directly are ranked 70, while their opening opponents Saudi Arabia are 67, as per the latest FIFA rankings.
In the last six games, the host has managed to draw just two games, losing the rest, and their last victory came in October 2017 against South Korea. Since then Russia has been winless.
They had a torrid run in both 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup and 2016 European Championship, getting knocked out in the group stages in both the tournament.
Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov has the worst win percentage (26.3%) when compared to the previous coaches of the Russian team.
The home side will heavily bank on the experience of their star goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev.
However, the home support would be massive for the Russian team to bring back some confidence and luck in their disappointing, winless 2018.
Russia have never progressed from the group stages in the World Cup since the breaking up of the USSR and will be eager to show not only their home crowd but the entire world of their capabilities.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia hasn’t been in a brilliant form either. Their coach Juan Antonio Pizzi has taken the command of the squad only seven months ago.
Pizzi has been experimenting with the playing XI a lot in the run to the main event, and has kept their main striker, Al Sahlawi, on the bench for most of the friendlies. However, the experienced striker is expected to start the opener.
Saudi Arabia's run-up to the finals was an extremely difficult attempt, having qualified for second place above Australia on only goal difference. They were the only nation, along with England, whose players all play for their respective domestic league – until May, when Al-Muwallad featured for Levante in May at the end of the La Liga season.
The Saudi Arabian team promises to be a good match for the hosts as they have enjoyed a slightly better form than their opponents. The Green Falcons have four losses and two wins in their previous six matches and showed great determination in a narrow 2-1 defeat in a friendly against the defending champions Germany.
Potential Russia XI: Akinfeev(GK), Zhirkov, Kutepov, Ignashevich, Fernandes; Golovin, Anton Miranchuk, Zobnin, Samedov; Dzagoev, Smolov
Potential Saudi Arabia XI: Al-Muaiouf (GK), Al-Burayk, Al-Boleahi, Hawsawi, Al-Harbi, Al-Faraj, Ali-Khaibari, Kanno, Al-Jassim, Al-Shehri, Al-Sahlawi
In the past, Russia and Saudi Arabia have locked horns only once way back in 1993 in a friendly game, where Russia defeated Saudi Arabia by a 4-2 scoreline.
Saudi Arabia have had enjoyed a better form in the run-up to the tournament, but Russia may have the edge due to the home conditions and the backing of the jam-packed stadium at Lukzniki. Our prediction is a 1-0 scoreline in favour of the host Russia.