All eyes will be on Moscow on Thursday evening as Russia kick-start the 2018 World Cup against Saudi Arabia looking to provide early cheer for the home faithful.
It’s worth noting that the hosts haven’t won a game since October 2017, and so they come into this fixture in poor form with an expectant home crowd watching on.
Nevertheless, as we’ve seen on countless occasions, the inspiration provided by being hosts at a major tournament can be a funny thing, and so they’ll be highly fancied to get the job done and secure three important points in Group A to get their tournament underway.
Their opponents aren’t in great form either though in truth, as Saudi Arabia have lost their last three games and so it promises to be quite the scrap for these two sides as they’ll be desperate to get out of the group.
Both teams will be at full strength, with neither camp reporting any concerns ahead of the big kick-off which will be music to the ears of the respective coaches.
Naturally, they will have selection dilemmas in terms of who is best suited to the game to help secure a positive result, but importantly, they will have options available off the bench too.
Aleksandr Golovin will be one to watch for Russia, with talkSPORT noting that the likes of Juventus and Arsenal are interested in him, while veterans such as Igor Akinfeev, Sergey Ignashevich and Yuri Zhirkov will be key in settling early nerves.
Saudi Arabia haven’t won a single game in their last 10 outings at the World Cup, while they’ve managed just one clean sheet in their last 13 appearances at the tournament.
Although this Russia side isn’t exactly packed with superstar names and haven’t suggested in the build-up to this tournament that they should be feared, home advantage coupled with the expectation on their shoulders of a nation demanding a win to lift morale along with experience, it should be enough to see them get a victory.
Russia 2-1 Saudi Arabia