Russia v Saudi Arabia: Host nation backed to open 2018 World Cup campaign with a win

Jack Kitson by Jack Kitson / 13 June 2018, 20:29

Russia and Saudi Arabia kick-off the 2018 World Cup on Thursday afternoon when they look horns at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium in front of a jam-packed crowd of 80,000.

A colossal worldwide audience will also be glued to their TV screens in excitement as World Cup fever sets to grip billions of people over the next four weeks.

Russia, who are the lowest-ranked team at the World Cup, head into the opening match as the 4/9 favourites for the win. Meanwhile, the tournament’s second-lowest ranked team, Saudi Arabia, can be backed at 9/1 to stun the hosts on their own patch, whereas a draw is available at 10/3.

The Group A clash pits together managers Stanislav Cherchesov (Russia) and Juan Antonio Pizzi (Saudi Arabia) who both make their World cup managerial debuts.

As the manager of the host nation, Cherchesov shoulders the expectations of 144 million people, although it’s fair to say that neither confidence or optimism levels are particularly high given his troops have failed to win any of their last seven matches, dating back to October.

This has resulted in a deflated feeling and real concern that Russia could become only the second host nation in history to miss out on the knockout stages.

But, boss Cherchesov is determined to defy the critics:

"Any coach has to accept criticism. I don’t read anything and stay focused on my job. We are trying to do what we’re doing – the fact we are getting criticised, that’s the world we live in today.

"Perhaps some don’t criticise enough and some too much. We never touch upon this topic at all. We have to do everything to turn criticism into praise.

“Why will we win tomorrow? Because we really want it.”

Stanislav Cherchesov

Pictured: Russia Manager, Stanislav Cherchesov

On the plus side Russia have been handed a favourable start against Saudi Arabia who have not recorded a World Cup victory in 24 years, while their preparations have been disrupted by frequent changes in the dugout.

It’s been quite the managerial whirlwind for the Green Falcons since they qualified for their fifth World Cup. The boss that led the Green Falcons to Russia, Bert Van Marwijk, is now managing Australia, while his replacement, Edgardo Bauza, lasted just two games.

As a result Pizzi, who failed to qualify with Chile, has been handed the reigns, with the country’s opening clash with Russia subsequently his first competitive game in charge.

Pizzi isn’t planning on his new side merely making up the numbers, having previously stated:

“I (Pizzi) like to press high up the park and put the opponents under pressure. Take the ball to the offensive line and get into a situation where we can score.

“Sometimes that happens and other times it is not very effective, but that’s the general objective. For me, it is not always to put more players into the attack, but this is one idea.”

(Via Arab News)

The countries have only ever faced-off once, back in 1993 when the Saudis triumphed 4-2 in a friendly. Admittedly a repeat result appears unlikely, although if Pizzi’s men can frustrate their opponents they may come away with a result, however if Russia score early on then it’s hard to look past anything other than a win for the hosts, with a 2-0 victory priced at 4/1.

Russia are without their main man, Aleksandr Kokorin, who misses the tournament through injury. But with 12 goals in 31 appearances it’s Fedor Smolov - recently linked with West Ham - who will be their main threat, and the striker is well worth a look at 3/1 to open the scoring against a country that has kept only one clean sheet in their last 13 World Cup games.

Prediction: Russia 2-0 Saudi Arabia

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