Russia – Saudi Arabia (2018 World Cup)
The 2018 World Cup finally begins, this Thursday afternoon at the Luzhniki Stadium, in Moscow, with Russia and Saudi Arabia playing the Group A first round. The Russians are the hosts of the competition and have a greater support than any other national team, something that will come in handy given that their last results have been fairly disappointing. Saudi Arabia, on their turn, are considered the Group A underdogs, but have no reason to fear this Russia side and will try to prove otherwise.
Russia are part of Group A along with Uruguay, Egypt and this Saudi Arabia. Russia were directly qualified to this group stage for being hosts of the competition, something that didn’t properly favored the game improvement of this national team. The last victory of the Soviets was on October 7, 4-2 against South Korea, and they haven’t won any of the following 7 preparation matches, losing 4 of them, a record that raise some question marks about the success of the Russians in this Group A, and is putting some pressure on them.
At the beginning, this seemed like a dream draw but could yet turn out to be a nightmare if they can’t find a way past Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The Russian attack lacks fluidity, the players show little offensive creativity and give few solutions on the final third of the pitch. Still, they face a national team without any great individual values, and a victory in the inaugural match of the competition would be very good for the morale of the players.
Probable Lineup: Akinfeev – Fernandes, Granat, Ignashevich and Kudryashov – Zobnin – Samedov, Golovin, Kuzyaev and Zhirkov – Smolov.
Saudi Arabia, on their turn, is theoretically considered the weaker team in Group A, and this is the first time since 2006 that this national team play in a World Cup. Saudi Arabia played in the 1998, 2002 and 2006 World Cup editions, playing a summit of 9 games without a single victory, and since the beginning of 2018 they have played 9 friendly matches, winning 3 and losing 5. The Green Eagles are showing some defensive difficulties, since the have conceded 11 goals in their previous 6 matches.
This is a national team without any great individual values, and can show a lower competitive pace, given that most 20 of these players 23 players compete in the Saudi Arabia Premier League. Only 3 players from this national team play in Europa, Al-Shehri, Leganés, Al -Dawsari, Villarreal, and Al-Muwallad from the Levante. Coach Joan Antonio Pizzi may adopt a cautious strategy here, favoring a low block and fast transitions.
Probable Lineup: Al- Mayoff – Al-Burayk, Hawsawi, Hawsawi and Shahrani – Faraj and Ateff – Dawsari, Jassam and Shehri – Muwallad.
Saudi Arabia won the only direct clash between these two national teams, in 1993, winning by 4-2.
With Russia showing a lackluster football and with lack of offensive fluidity, this should be an inaugural match that will provide little spectacle. It is a fact that Saudi Arabia have defensive difficulties, but will Russia be able to take advantage of it? In any case, this should be a very tight match, where few goals are expected.