FIFA World Cup 2018 Preview: Russia, Saudi Arabia look to end drought

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FIFA World Cup 2018 will kick off with the hosts Russia taking on Saudi Arabia in the tournament opener on Thursday.

The FIFA World Cup 2018 is ready to kick off with the hosts Russia squaring off against Saudi Arabia in the opening match. For the hosts, it will be a chance to forego their recent records and start off the biggest tournament in the world on a winning run. The side led by coach Stanislav Cherchesov, has not won a single match in their previous seven games before the start of the tournament. Their last win was when they beat Korea Republic in October 2017. Russia have slipped down to the 70th position in FIFA Rankings, and are currently the lowest-ranked teams in the tournament.

But Cherchesov, who took over the coaching role in August 2016, can take relief from the fact that their opening fixture is against Saudi Arabia, who are only three ranks higher than them. Russia have not lost a match at World Cup finals since 2002, and they will be eager to kick off things on a positive note at Luzhiniki Stadium in Moscow in front of the home crowd.

READ | FIFA World Cup 2018 Live Updates

The problem with the hosts lies with their goalscoring abilities. In their four friendly fixtures in 2018, Russia have only scored twice. Fedor Smolov, who plays for Russia’s top division club Krasnodar, and has scored 52 goals in the last three seasons for the club, and will be the key player for the side in the opening match.

For Saudi Arabia, who have not won a single World Cup finals match since beating the USA in 1994, the biggest concern lies with their coaching staff in the leadup to Russia. The Green Falcons, who are returning to the big stage for the first time since 2006, have won only three out of nine friendly fixtures under boss Juan Antonio Pizzo who took over the role after the sacking of Edgardo Bauza just after two months in charge. The side have struggled since Dutchman Bert van Marwijk stepped aside from the coaching role in September 2017.

Saudi Arabia will look to bank upon the experienced squad, which is led by the 35-year old defender Osama Hawsawi’s, who has played 135 international matches for the country. But as per the statistics, no home team has ever lost in the Opening match of the tournament. But Saudi Arabia will hope they can repeat the performance from the last time the two teams met back in October 1993, when they defeated Russia by 4-2 in a friendly match.

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