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Group A Match Preview: Russia vs Saudi Arabia

Read Sport logo Read Sport 14/06/2018 Caolan Martin
Russia Training Session - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia © Dan Mullan/Getty Images Sport Russia Training Session - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

The time has come. Russia vs Saudi Arabia will play host for opening the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Both teams come into this game with dreadful results in friendlies. Russia – coached by Stanislav Cherchesov, are without a victory in eight games that stretches back to last October. Friendlies don’t stack up to real competitive matches, but it does give an insight on confidence and belief which Russia seems to have been struggling as of late.

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It’s been 10 years since Russia got to the semi-finals of Euro 2008, however with their latest squad for this tournament it could be a quick exit for the hosts. Injuries have thwarted the side, defenders Georgy Dzhikiya and Viktor Vasin plus forward Alexander Kokorin miss out on the final 23-man squad due to knee problems.

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Russia must improve from their last World Cup adventure four years ago to have any chance on making it out of the group stage on home soil. Coming third, with a measly two points in 2014 means it’s crucial getting off the mark this time with all three points – as they face tougher opponents (Egypt and Uruguay) later on.

a group of people in a field: Dan Mullan/Getty Images Sport © Dan Mullan/Getty Images Sport Dan Mullan/Getty Images Sport This is Saudi Arabia’s first World Cup since 2006. Coach Juan Antonio Pizzi will be looking to redeem his reputation, as he failed to guide Chile to qualify for this year’s World Cup. After taking the reigns of head coach of Saudi Arabia back in November, he gets his wish to prove himself at the World Cup. Saudi Arabia has fared, somewhat, positively than their group A counterparts with two wins in five games. Although, a run of three straight defeats has now made this fixture close one to call.

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Runners-up to Japan in Asian qualifying, Saudi Arabia will find it difficult to repeat the same position in this group. The ‘Green Falcons’ hope their main striker and finisher – Mohammad Al-Sahlawi, can provide the goals as he did in qualifying. Scoring 16 goals, albeit, against less quality opposition, is no mean feat. The question is, can Al-Sahlawi keep up his prowess in front of goal when the match – plus the pressure of the occasion, cranks up a few notches.

Russia vs Saudi Arabia – Match FACTS

  • These two have faced-off only once in their history (1993), with Russia coming out on top in a 4-2 win.
  • This fixture will be the lowest rated FIFA world ranking game at the World Cup; Russia occupying 70th place and Saudi Arabia three spots ahead in 67th place.
  • Russia have failed to qualify from the group stage in three attempts (1994, 2002 and 2014)
  • Legend Lev Yashin, who holds the record for the oldest player to represent Russia at a World Cup, could be yet overtaken by Sergei Ignashevich. The defender (38-years-old) will break Yashin’s record by two years.
  • Saudi Arabia have finished bottom in three of the five World Cup’s they’ve appeared at. They are also winless (1 draw, 3 losses) in opening group games.
  • Failed to score in 7 of their last 9 World Cup games, Saudi Arabia also have only one clean sheet to their name in World Cup history.

Prediction

a man with a football ball: Dan Mullan/Getty Images Sport © Dan Mullan/Getty Images Sport Dan Mullan/Getty Images Sport This game will be a closely fought contest. With Russia having a few more key players than their opponents, the balance could be tipped in their favour. However, not grabbing an early goal might cause the Russians to crumble under the weight of their home crowd. I can see a drab scoreless draw.

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