World Cup 2018: Russia vs Saudi Arabia, Everything you need to know about Match 1
Compared to the previous World Cups, this edition's opener - Russia vs Saudi Arabia - might not look so enticing. For comparison, Germany vs Costa Rica in 2006, Brazil vs Croatia in 2014 and even Mexico vs South Africa in 2010 were better opening fixtures on paper.
However, that does not mean the match will be disappointing. The WC has a history of throwing up surprises, and the results can never be sure when two underdogs face off against one another.
With things set to kick-off at 20:30 IST, here is everything you need to know about the first match of the 2018 World Cup:
FIFA ranking: 70
Coach: Stanislav Cherchesov
Captain: Igor Akinfeev
As hosts, Russia qualified automatically and whether they would have qualified for the WC if they had to go through the same process as the other teams is a point of contention.
But, it doesn't matter as Russia are the hosts and they're here. Their ranking makes them look much worse than they actually are, as they did not play a lot of matches and hence could not score points on the absurd points system.
Russia are likely to play a very defensive system, as they employ a 3 man back line with 2 wing backs. Captain Akinfeev will serve as the keeper as well, and Russian fans will be hoping that the CSKA Moscow keeper will shut out any and all of the attacks.
Golovin and Dzobnin should be the first names on the team sheet (after Akinfeev) and will play in central midfield, with Dzagoev as the third CM. However, his poor recent form might lead to us seeing a new face in midfield for Russia.
The two strikers will most likely be Miranchuk and Smolov, as Smolov is a domestic hero for Moscow and Russia will be counting on him to deliver the goods in attack. Golovin is their most creative player, and the player to keep an eye out for.
FIFA ranking: 67
Coach: Juan Antonio Pizzi
Captain: Osama Hawsawi
Saudi Arabia are not the pushovers everyone expects them to be, and exhibited great resilience to qualify. They have one of the best attacks in Asia, but suffer from a dearth of quality in defense.
They scored the most goals in the final stage of qualifying (along with Japan) and have a lot of quality in their squad. The former Chile coach has shown a tendency to send in highly pressing teams that like to attack.
Saudi Arabia play a classic 4-3-3, with quick passes and the players dribbling out of trouble.
It is very difficult to gauge what this team is capable of, and it might work in their favour. Al-Sahlawi, who scored 16 goals in qualifying, is a player a lot of things are expected of, along with Al Muwallad.
Otayf - called the Saudi Modric - plays as a defensive midfielder and makes things happen with his intricate passing. Partnering him will be Al-Faraj, who is just as smart a passer. Playing as the attacking midfielder will most likely be Al-Shehri, who at 5'5" is very pacey and loves to get into the opposition box.
Who lines up as keeper is still not sure, as Al-Mayouf is the No.1 keeper, but the other two are just as good and can pip him to the starting spot. Al-Owais was named as the best keeper in the Saudi Professional League, while teammate Al Mosailem has been solid for the national team.
The defense will feature captain Hawsawi and Motez Mawsawi - who was awarded the best defender in the SPL last season, along with Al-Harbi and Al-Shehrani as the full backs.
Whether the Saudi players can keep up their tempo of attack against the Russians who are acclimatized to the home conditions is the biggest question and might be the deciding factor when the teams face off.
Bookies odds (most popular):
Saudi Arabia: 9.5
Predicted scoreline: I am going to go out on a limb here and say Saudi Arabia are going to win 1-2. Russia's tactics are often delusional to the point of pitiful, and Saudi Arabia's attack might be good enough for an upset.