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Preview: Russia vs Saudi Arabia
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14 Jun 2018 10:54 AM EST

-by Thuya Kyaw, Staff Writer; Image: Russia vs Saudi Arabia (Image Source:Sportskeeda) 

Recent form: RUS (D,L,L,L,D), SAU (L,W,L,L,L)

 

Key players to watch

 

RUS: (Fedor Smolov, STRIKER, Krasnodar) (Denis Cheryshev, WINGER, Villarreal) (Alan Dzagoev, MIDFIELD, CSKA Moscow)

 

SAU: (Mohammed Al-Sahlawi, STRIKER, Al Nassr) (Fahad Al-Muwallad, WINGER, Levante) (Salem Muhamed Al-Dawsari, WINGER, Villarreal)

 

We open the 2018 World Cup between the two lowest ranked countries in the tournament: the hosts Russia and the Asian minnows Saudi Arabia. According to the latest FIFA rankings, Russia is ranked the lowest in the tournament and in their history with 70th in the world, which seems rather harsh. Meanwhile, Saudi isn’t much better off with 67th and it’s not as surprising given the talent (or the lack thereof) in their squad at moment.

 

Background

 

Since the breakup of Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the standard of football in the world’s largest country has taken a huge dip and Russia has yet to do anything impressive since their first game in 1992. 

 

Apart from a surprising run in the Euro 2008, where they reached the semi finals after knocking out the likes of the Netherlands, Sweden, and Greece, Russia has constantly failed to show any spark at world stage and was very underwhelming during the last two Euros and the 2014 World Cup. 

 

After the retirements of Andrei Arshavin and Roman Pavlyuchenko, the country has failed to produce players worthy of playing in Europe’s top five leagues. Especially due to the large sum of wages dished out in the Russian Premier League, less and less players are moving abroad which just stalls the development of football in the country,

 

Russia was poor in both the Euro 2016 and 2017 Confederations Cup, and the current side doesn’t offer much hope to the public either. The country’s golden boy Aleksandr Kokorin suffered a serious injury back in March, ruling him out of the World Cup and causing more damage to Russia’s hopes of advancing to the next round.

 

With Kokorin’s absence, Krasnodar striker Fedor Smolov will have to carry the load in front of goal.The 28-year-old has proven to be a lethal finisher in the last three seasons, with an impressive record of 52 goals in 73 games. He will partner the 6-foot-5 forward Artem Dzyuba, who is also a goalscorer with six goals in last 10 games. Denis Cheryshev is healthy and impressing again in La Liga, while Alan Dzagoev and Aleksandr Golovin are good options to go with in the central midfield.

 

Saudi, like the Russians, hasn’t exactly lit up in the world stage either. Despite reaching the knock-out stage during their first World Cup in 1994, they have failed to replicate that success and became infamous for losing 8-0 to Germany in 2002. 

 

After missing out on 2010 and 2014, Saudi showed impressive signs during the qualifying for this World Cup, even finishing above the current Asian champions Australia to qualify directly. They have been a train wreck since then however, going through three coaching changes before settling with Juan Antonio Pizzi: the Argentine who helped Chile defeat his home country during the 2016 Copa America Centenario final. The team’s talisman Mohammed Al-Sahlawi has an impressive scoring record with 28 goals in 40 appearances, while the likes of Fahad Al-Muwallad, Yahya Sulaiman Al-Shehri, and Salem Al-Dawsari all spent the past six months with La Liga clubs. 

 

 

Prediction

 

Both teams look fairly even at the moment, with Saudi even looking more impressive during their recent friendlies against Germany and Italy — narrowly losing both games. Russia, on the other hand, looked quite awful in their friendlies against France, Brazil, and Austria and looked uninspired for the most part.

 

With this match being the opener, expect to see many sloppy touches and plays from both sides. Although Russia generally tends to be strong at home, they seem to be under extra pressure to perform in front of their crowd which might work in the favor of Saudi. Whoever gets three full points from this game will get a massive confidence boost to advance to the next round, and Russia with better individuals just might grind out a narrow win. 

 

Prediction: Russia 1-0 Saudi Arabia 

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