The four year wait is finally over, and on Thursday afternoon we can look forward to the 2018 World Cup kicking off in Moscow. To be honest, it’s not the most eye catching of opening fixtures, but it looks like it could be a very closely contested affair.
Russia come into their home World Cup as the lowest ranked side in the FIFA World Rankings after their recent 1-1 draw with Turkey, placing them 70th in the list and three positions lower than the next lowest ranked side, who happen to be Saudi Arabia.
To be honest, Russia’s preparations for the World Cup haven’t gone particularly well. They lost 1-0 to Austria at the end of May and their draw with Turkey last week was a rather dull affair. They come into the opening match without a win since October, losing four and drawing three of their seven games since then.
In fact, Russia have won just six of their matches since they were knocked out of Euro 2016, and they have only beaten one team who are present in this World Cup since November 2015. They have lost eight of their last 14 matches against teams who have qualified for the 2018 World Cup, winning once against South Korea.
Saudi Arabia may be officially the second worst nation at the tournament, but they actually performed quite well in their most recent warm up friendly, limiting a full strength Germany side to a 2-1 win. This was a much better showing than their 3-0 hammering against Peru at the start of June, and before that they only lost 2-1 to Italy as well.
Russia may have the majority of the fans on their side, but the bookies seem to be overvaluing their abilities here. They have won just two of their last 11 games, failing to beat the likes of Iran, Austria, and Turkey in the process.
Saudi Arabia have another advantage as well. Ten of their 23 man squad play for the same club, Al-Hilal. Many of these players have been teammates for most of their domestic career, and it’s that sort of team cohesion that can make the difference in such a high pressure situation.
We think the host nation are far too short in this instance, so we like the look of a Saudi Arabia Win or Draw Double Chance alongside a 1-1 correct score predictions.
Russia Predicted Lineup: Akinfeev, Fernandes, Ignashevich, Granat, Kudryashov, Zobnin, Samedov, Dzagoev, Golovin, Zhirkov, Smolov
Saudi Arabia Predicted Lineup: Al Maiouf, Al-Breik, Hawsawi, Hawsawi, Al-Harbi, Otayf, Al-Shehri, Al-Jasssim, AL-Faraj, Al-Dawsari, Al-Sahlawi
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