2018 World Cup: Russia v Saudi Arabia
Hosts Russia get the 2018 World Cup underway when they host Saudi Arabia in Moscow on Thursday evening (4pm BST).
Following a 30-minute opening ceremony, which will feature Robbie Williams and Ronaldo, Russia will look to start the tournament with a morale-boosting victory in Group A.
Stanislav Cherchesov’s side are the lowest-ranked team at the World Cup and have not won a game since October 2017.
They were whistled off the pitch by fans after drawing their final warm-up against Turkey and former Russia and Manchester United winger Andrei Kanchelskis say it is the “worst Russian team” he has seen during his lifetime.
The hosts have been hampered by injuries, with forward Alexander Kokorin and defenders Georgy Dzhikiya and Viktor Vasin missing the tournament due to knee problems.
“We’re realists,” said striker Artyom Dzyuba. “We’re not favourites to win the World Cup, but we want to get out of the group and we’re playing at home. We want to prove to everyone, and most of all to ourselves, that we can play football so that the country can be proud of us
“We’re a football country, not just an ice hockey or basketball or volleyball country, but a football one too. And we’ll put every effort into getting out of the group, to start with, and we’ll only start fantasising after that.”
Saudi Arabia are the second-lowest ranked team at the World Cup and have lost their last three matches heading into the tournament.
Egypt and Uruguay meet in the second Group A clash on Friday.
Russia have brought 38-year-old Sergei Ignashevich out of international retirement because of a number of defensive injuries and he is expected to start.
Star man Aleksandr Kokorin misses this tournament with a knee injury so their most likely match-winner is striker Fedor Smolov.
Saudi Arabia coach Juan Antonio Pizzi faces a selection dilemma up front.
Mohammed Al-Sahlawi and Muhannad Assiri both rotated in the warm-up friendlies.
AN INAUSPICIOUS OPENER?
The opening World Cup game features the two sides ranked the lowest in the competition. Partly due to a lack of competitive matches, tournament hosts Russia have slipped to 70th in Fifa’s rankings, three places lower than Thursday’s opponents.
The respective form of each side is befitting of their rank. Russia are without a win in seven matches, a run stretching back to October, while Saudi Arabia comes into the game off the back of successive friendly losses to Italy, Peru and Germany.
Saudi Arabia cannot draw on a strong World Cup pedigree either. This is their first appearance since 2006 and in their last three tournaments they have lost seven and drawn two of their nine group games.
The World Cup hosts have never been beaten in the opening match. If Russia do lose then not only will they set a tournament first, but qualification for the last 16 would appear unlikely.