World Cup hosts Russia will kick-off the global sports fiesta when they face Saudi Arabia in the opening group game on Thursday at the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow.
Russia, ranked 66th by FIFA, is under pressure to win their opener against the 67th ranked Saudis.
Russia has been struggling for form and has failed to win most of their friendly matches.
When the East Europeans hosted the Confederations cup in 2017, they failed to make the last four – losing to Portugal and Mexico.
Russia managed to beat New Zealand 2-0.
What the host nation may lack in star-players might be offset by a collective team effort, the wise direction of senior players (Igor Akinfeev and Yuri Zhirkov) as well as the twelfth man – the fans.
Indeed it would appear Russia’s manager Stanislav Cherchesov has a plan.
“We have been studying our opponents from day one. There are no weak teams in any of the groups. The first game is important as it will set the tone to a certain extent,” he says.
On their part, Saudi Arabia can take heart from their heroic performance against Germany last Friday. The Green Falcons lost 2-1 but many were surprised by the fact that they pushed the world champions all the way.
“I like to press high up the park and put the opponents under pressure,” notes Saudi manager Juan Antonio Pizzi.
“Take the ball to the offensive line and get into a situation where we can score. Sometimes that happens and other times it is not very effective, but that’s the general objective.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman are expected to watch the match.
Many feel this encounter might be a closely fought one, but crowd support and the patriotic fervor for MOTHERLAND RUSSIA might just see the host win this one.
Let the games begin!!!!