Russia v Saudi Arabia preview

On what looks set to be a balmy evening, hosts Russia will be keen to make a statement as they open the 2018 World Cup against Group A rivals Saudi Arabia.

In truth, the Sbornaya could hardly have picked an easier opening game but with the world watching, Stanislav Cherchesov will be demanding a performance, especially with his team the 1.42 favourites.

This will be Russia’s fourth World Cup as an independent nation and they have a point to prove, having failed to make it out of the group stages on each occasion. In fact, tournament football has hardly been kind to them, with their last four showing at Euro 2008 the only time Russia have made the knockout rounds of a major tournament, but they are 3.00 to top Group A.

Cherchesov’s squad has been depleted by injuries, and three players who started that last four game 10 years ago – Igor Akinfeev, Sergei Ignashevich and Yuri Zhirkov – could feature on Thursday.

The occasion and the boss’ preference for a back three suggests it could be a tight affair and the Saudis will be out to cause a shock.

The Green Falcons will become the first Asian team to take part in the opening match at a World Cup and will be keen to soar at the revamped Luzhniki Stadium.

Striker Mohammad Al-Sahlawi, who is 4.50 to net at anytime, was the joint top scorer in the whole of qualifying with 16 goals, but his chances are likely to be limited.

Juan Antonio Pizzi has turned the team into more of a possession-based outfit, since taking over from Bert van Marwijk in November 2017, but is likely to set his side out to defend first.

Despite making the last 16 at the first attempt in 1994, Saudi also have a poor World Cup record, finishing bottom of their pools in 1998, 2002 and 2006.

They arrive in Russia as a somewhat unknown quantity and are 9.75 to get a result on Thursday, with the draw priced at 4.30 and will be encouraged by the fact Cherchesov’s side have not kept a clean sheet in their last 10 outings.

Another thing to look out for is VAR and with so much on the line, the officials are sure to utilise the technology. Punters may take on the 3.50 for a penalty to be awarded.

Either way, it seems destined to be a cagey game but with the pressure on, this could be the perfect opportunity for the tournament’s lowest ranked team to give their nation some hope.