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Big Match Breakdown: Russia v Saudi Arabia

The World Cup is about to begin

After what feels like an eternity of preparation, anticipation and hype, the World Cup is finally upon us.

It all kicks off with hosts Russia versus Saudi Arabia in Group A at the Luzhniki Stadium.

But how will the opening game go? The Coral News Team have all the key info in today’s big match breakdown…

Head to Head

This will be the second time Russia and Saudi Arabia have met. The previous meeting was won 4-2 by the Arabian side in a friendly in 1993.

With the two sides ranked 70th and 67th respectively (the lowest in the tournament), it should be an evenly-matched encounter this time around.

Recent World Cup history doesn’t lie favourably with either side. The Russians have won only two of their last nine World Cup games. The Saudis won two matches on their tournament debut in 1994, but have failed to win any of their last nine finals contests.

As for the form book, Russia are winless in seven since a 4-2 win over South Korea last October. However, four of those games were against Brazil, Argentina, France and Spain.

Saudi Arabia have failed to win six of their last eight, but did put up gutsy performances against Italy and Germany in recent weeks.

Likely XIs

A number of injuries means Russia boss Stanislav Cherchesov faces a number of dilemmas.

He is without key man Aleksandr Kokorin, while defensive issues means 38-year-old Sergei Ignashevich is a probable starter.

Fedor Smolov will lead the line for the hosts, aided by Alan Dzagoev. Aleksandr Golovin will be hoping to pull the strings in the middle, with former Chelsea man Yuri Zhirkov (now 34-years-old) on the flank.

As for Saudi Arabia, head coach Juan Antonio Pizzi must choose between Mohammed Al-Sahlawi and Muhannad Assiri up front, having tried both in the friendly warm-ups.

Key Battles

Russia should have the quality to see this through, but Saudi Arabia didn’t give Italy or Germany an easy time of things in their recent friendlies.

Keeping tabs on Dzagoev and Golovin, ensuring they can’t supply the forwards will be a big aspect of Saudi Arabia’s success this afternoon.

Saudi Arabia trialled a number of tactics in the pre-tournament games, including 4-1-4-1 and 4-2-3-1, so Russia must look out for any counter attacks. The aging Ignashevich could be a target for the Green Falcons.

Match Odds

Russia may be ranked three spots lower, but that’s largely due to not playing any qualifying games.

So Coral’s traders have slapped the hosts up as 2/9 favourites to win the opening match of the World Cup. No host nation have ever lost the opening game, and Saudi Arabia are the 9/1 outsiders with a draw 3/1.

Smolov is the 11/5 favourite to score first, while there’s 12/5 about Dzagoev anytime.  It’s 15/4 about a 1-0 Russia win, with 17/4 saying the hosts prevail 2-0.

Big match previews, betting tips and transfer news – we’ve got it all.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing