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The 21st edition of the FIFA World Cup is upon us and the long-anticipated opening clash between Russia and Saudi Arabia will take place at the Luzhniki Arena in Moscow on June 14th. The hosts are huge favorites to start with a win, but they are without an international victory since October 2017, and with all eyes on them to get three points here, it will be interesting to see the Russians how they’ll cope with the pressure early on.
Russia vs. Saudi Arabia
Three-Way: 1: Russia -333; X: +375 Draw; 2: Saudi Arabia +1100
Spread -1.5: Russia +106; Saudi Arabia -139
Total 2.5 goals: Over +114; Under -152
The Sbornaya qualified for the World Cup directly as the hosts and that is probably the only way they could even be here considering the situation in Russian football in recent years and general lack of quality. Russia will participate in their fourth WC since the breakup of the Soviet Union, and they will have an excellent chance to reach the Round of 16 for the first time as the draw handed them a relatively easy group.
The head coach Stanislav Cherchesov has only three players who play outside Russia, and although the quality of the Russian Premier League is on the rise, lacking internationals who are earning their money in European top leagues could be a big problem. Another issue is the change of generations as they will be without the defending trio Sergei Ignashevich and brothers Berezutski, who played together for years alongside the keeper Igor Akinfeev but retired from international football.
On the other hand, the midfield is looking good as there are several players who can drive this team forward such as Alan Dzagoev, Aleksandr Golovin, Denis Glushakov, Aleksey Miranchuk, and Denis Cheryshev, so the midfield is clearly the best part of this squad. Fyodor Smolov or Artem Dzyuba will likely start up front, and any of them could pose a big threat to Saudi Arabia’s defense thanks to their physics and target man qualities.
The Green Falcons made it to the fifth World Cup and unlike Russia, they at least managed to make it to the Round of 16 once, it was in 1994 in the USA. However, Saudi Arabia usually played an unnoticeable role at the World Cup and that should be the case this time around as well, as nobody expects them to advance to the knockout stage.
Appointing Juan Antonio Pizzi as the new head coach is probably the best decision in years, and the tactician who won Copa America with Chile and was vice-champion with them at the latest FIFA Confederations Cup is surely Saudi Arabia’s biggest strength at the moment. The problem is that Pizzi doesn’t have quality players in his squad as most of them are playing in the domestic championship which is simply not good enough.
Still, the Green Falcons have a striker that is capable of creating havoc in the opposing box, so the Russians must be aware of Mohammed Al-Sahlawi who impressed in the qualifications with 16 goals, leading all Asian teams in the process and helping his side to get to the Word Cup directly ahead of Australia.
Despite all the pressure and bad results at big tournaments in the recent past, Russia is a huge favorite here and anything but a win for the hosts would be a complete surprise. They are a better team and have better players, so with the help of fans in Moscow, I believe the Sbornaya will start the competition with three points, which could be crucial in their fight for one of the first two places.
The Pick: Russia to win (-333)