Host nation Russia will take on Saudi Arabia in the opening fixture of the 2018 World Cup on Thursday afternoon.
Stanislav Cherchesov’s side are currently 2/5 to pick up three points in that fixture and an early victory could give Russia the incentive to push on and qualify for the last-16 stage. On paper, Russia have the quality to put their opponents to the sword but this will NOT be straightforward.
Russia have failed to inspire confidence in recent years; expecting a deep run to the latter stages of the competition would be foolish. Cherchesov’s men are now on a seven-game run without tasting victory but that could all change on Thursday.
The hostile home crowd will be looking to give their troops a boost and there is going to be a daunting atmosphere at the Luzhniki Stadium throughout the clash.
With three goals and four assists in his last 10 matches for club and country, Fedor Smolov could be the man to make the difference. The Krasnodar striker has scored 12 goals for the national side, with six of those coming since the start of 2017.
Smolov is an 11/10 chance to get his name on the scoresheet; that price is on the low side but he is the class act in what is an average Russian squad.
From a Saudi Arabia perspective, a draw would be a great result. Featuring in the opening fixture was always going to be a tough task but Juan Antonio Pizzi’s men will be looking to give a decent account of themselves.
Keeping things tight at the back will be the top priority and a low-scoring first half looks likely. A goalless draw at half-time is currently available at 7/4; an excellent price considering how much is at stake.
Saudi Arabia rode their luck against Germany at times last week but managed to stick with the 2014 World Cup winners. Pizzi’s side were defeated 2-1 but most punters expected a wider margin of victory for the European side – Saudi Arabia are no slouches.
My bet of the day in this fixture is under 2.5 goals at 4/6. Opening fixtures can be cagey and I’m not expecting much from this encounter. An early goal may open things up but I just can’t see it. This could turn out to be one of the worst matches of the entire tournament…
It is much easier to back Russia than Saudi Arabia in this fixture and that is why I’m siding with the hosts to get off to the perfect start. It won’t be the prettiest fixture on television this summer but the Russians won’t care.
Tournament football is all about results, no matter how you go about getting them. This has all the makings of a low-scoring affair; Russia may just about shade it. 5/1 for a one-nil triumph may be the way to go.
TIP: Under 2.5 goals @ 4/6
CORRECT SCORE: Russia 1-0 Saudi Arabia (Priced at 5/1 with 888sport)
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*