Hosts Russia kick-off proceedings in the opening match of the tournament against Saudi Arabia on Thursday afternoon.
The first Group A contest presents the perfect opportunity for the home nation to pick up maximum points before challenging games against Uruguay and Egypt determine the extent of their progress in the competition.
Where and when: Luzhniki Stadium – 14 June, kick-off 16:00
Where you can see Russia vs. Saudi Arabia: ITV
Last time: It has been 25 years since the first and only meeting between the two countries and it was The Green Falcons who won the non-competitive match 4-2.
|Artem Dzyuba to score last||7/2||Offer|
|Both teams to score||7/5||Offer|
|Home team to be awarded a penalty||6/1||Offer|
Russia v Saudi Arabia Predictions and Preview
Stanislav Cherchesov’s men have not been in the best of form leading up to football’s showpiece event, losing comprehensively against Brazil and France, before struggling in the final two warm up clashes with Austria and Turkey.
Nevertheless, Russia are expected to get the better of their opponents Saudi Arabia with striker Fyodor Smolov tasked with scoring the goals. The Krasnodar hitman comes in to the tournament off the back of another good season at club level, bagging 14 times from just 22 games, while the two previous campaigns yielded a mightily impressive 49 efforts, highlighting Smolov’s importance to the national team.
Cherchesov is likely to field youngster Alexey Miranchuk off the forward and the Lokomotiv Moscow attacking midfielder will be given licence to roam and link the front five. 22-year-old Aleksandr Golovin, whose name is often linked to clubs in England, and more recently Juventus, is another player expected to step up, particularly in the absence of would be starter Alexander Kokorin who cruelly misses out. The Zenit St Petersburg attacker struck 19 times this term before rupturing cruciate ligaments in March and is one of a handful of key men to sit on the sidelines through injury.
The National Team are 2/5 to win the duel while a 2-0 success is available at 9/2.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia go in to the tournament as the rank outsiders in Group A and will want to ruin the spectacle for Russia. Under Coach Juan Antonio Pizzi, there have been signs of improvement and if The Green Falcons can frustrate for the opening 60 minutes, confidence will grow. A triumph for the travelling party is 9/1 and a 1-1 draw is 33/4.
One to watch for Russia: Smolov is the obvious choice and the 28-year-old is the 12/3 favourite to open the scoring and calm any nerves in the crowd.
One to watch for Saudi Arabia: Mohammad Al-Sahlawi has 28 goals from just 39 appearances for his country and will be a threat. The Al-Nassr front man is 20/2 to net the opener.
Long shot: If the opening stage is to materialise as it appears on paper, Uruguay will comfortably advance as group winners, leaving Egypt and Russia to battle it out for the second qualifying berth. With the Saudi Arabia clash likely to be decisive as a result, an attractive victory is imperative for the hosts and a 4-0 win is 19/1.