The opening game of the 2018 World Cup game may be a tricky game for the hosts.
Russia v Saudi Arabia, Thursday 14th June, 16:00, ITV
The hosts kick off the 2018 World Cup with a clash against minnows Saudi Arabia, who have failed to win a match in the three World Cups they’ve played in the last 20 years. That looks to be heavily factored into what is a remarkably short price for Russia to win, who lest we forget are far from world beaters themselves.
In fact, our own rankings don't show a great deal of disparity between the teams with Russia at 41st and their visitors 45th (FIFA go even further and have the Saudis above Russia), while the hosts have lost 1-0 to Austria and drawn 1-1 with Turkey in their final warm-up games, who we have at 43rd and 50th respectively. As if that form guide wasn’t enough, consider that Russia haven’t won any of their last eight matches at major tournaments, while the Saudis have spent longer together preparing for this than most teams as they’ve played five warm-up friendlies since the start of May. With that in mind, the Saudis appear great value +1 on the handicap.
The Green Falcons also have one of their most talented group of players to ever head to a World Cup and they top scored in Asian qualifying as they finished above Australia. They scored nine times in their five away matches during the final stage of qualifying as they were able to use their pace to great effect.
Their attack is certainly their strength, while Russia’s defence has been weakened by injuries and retirements and has not kept a clean sheet in 10 internationals. That all points to both teams to score being a great bet, because the last host nation to fail to score in a World Cup opener was Mexico in 1970.
While the Saudi’s goal-scoring burden is relatively evenly distributed, Russia are likely to rely more heavily on Fedor Smolov as the main man. Once the butt of many a joke in Russia, his form and output have improved substantially over the past few years and he’s netted seven times in his last 14 appearances for Russia, grabbing the first of the game in half the six matches in which he found himself on the scoresheet.