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russia18World Cup 2018 kicks off on Thursday with a Group A clash between Russia and Saudi Arabia at the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow.

 

 

Group A also includes Egypt and Uruguay and you can read our outright preview for this quartet here.

 

Russia:

As host nation Russia qualified automatically for these finals and hence their preparations have been restricted to friendly internationals and the 2017 Confederations Cup.

The Confed Cup, the trial run for these finals, saw Russia fail to make it beyond the group stage after a 2-0 win over New Zealand was followed by defeats to Portugal (1-0) and Mexico (2-1).

Perhaps of more concern is the recent form in friendly internationals. In October last year they drew 1-1 with Iran and a month later they lost 1-0 to Argentina and drew 3-3 with Spain. In March this year they lost 3-0 to Brazil and 3-1 to France and most recently they lost 1-0 to Austria and drew 1-1 with Turkey.

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow), Vladimir Gabulov (Club Brugge), Andrey Lunev (Zenit St Petersburg).

Defenders: Vladimir Granat, Fedor Kudryashov (both Rubin Kazan), Ilya Kutepov (Spartak Moscow), Andrey Semenov (Akhmat Grozny), Sergei Ignashevich, Mario Fernandes (both CSKA Moscow), Igor Smolnikov (Zenit St Petersburg).

Midfielders: Yuri Gazinskiy (Krasnodar), Alexsandr Golovin, Alan Dzagoev (both CSKA Moscow), Aleksandr Erokhin, Yuri Zhirkov, Daler Kuzyaev (all Zenit St Petersburg), Roman Zobnin, Alexsandr Samedov (both Spartak Moscow), Anton Miranchuk (Lokomotiv Moscow), Denis Cheryshev (Villarreal).

Forwards: Artem Dzyuba (Arsenal Tula), Aleksey Miranchuk (Lokomotiv Moscow), Fedor Smolov (Krasnodar).

 

Saudi Arabia:

Saudi Arabia finished second in one of two Asia qualifying groups, 1 point behind Japan after winning 6 of their 10 matches, scoring a total of 17 goals and conceding 10.

This is their first finals since 2006 when they earned just 1 point in the group stage and they are the outsiders of the 4 nations in this quartet.

As far as preparation matches are concerned Saudi have lost their last 3, going down 2-1 to Italy in May and earlier this month they were beaten 3-0 by Peru and 2-1 by Germany.

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Mohammed Al Owais (Al Ahli), Yasser Al Mosailem (Al Ahli), Abdullah Al Mayouf (Al Hilal).

Defenders: Mansoor Al Harbi (Al Ahli), Yasser Al Shahrani (Al Hilal) Mohammed Al Breik (Al Hilal), Motaz Hawsawi (Al Ahli), Osama Hawsawi (Al Hilal), Omar Hawsawi (Al Nassr), Ali Al Bulaihi (Al Hilal).

Midfielders: Abdullah Al Khaibari (Al Shabab), Abdulmalek Al Khaibri (Al Hilal), Abdullah Otayf (Al Hilal), Taiseer Al Jassim (Al Ahli), Houssain Al Mogahwi (Al Ahli), Salman Al Faraj, Mohamed Kanno (both Al Hilal), Hattan Bahebri (Al Shabab), Salem Al Dawsari (Al Hilal), Yahya Al Shehri (Al Nassr), Fahad Al Muwallad (Al Ittihad).

Forwards: Mohammad Al Sahlawi (Al Nassr), Muhannad Assiri (Al Ahli).

 

Recent Head to Head

N/A

 

The Betting- Bet Now

Match Result:

Russia 9/20

Draw 32/10

Saudi Arabia 15/2

Note, odds quoted are an approximate average and are correct at the time of last update but are subject to change

 

Verdict:

All the pressure is on the home side after some indifferent friendly results sparked criticism of the coach and his team selection in the run up to these finals. Saudi will be an unknown quantity for many including myself and whether they are good enough to take advantage of any nerves or tension in the hosts camp is open to debate.

I’ll side with 2-3 goals in total, as much on gut feel as anything in an interesting opening contest.

 

Bets: Total goals 2-3 at 9/10

 

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Pool name: Goodforthegame

Pool code: eirebibs

Vouchers from WSB, 1st R500, 2nd R300, 3rd R200, 4-10 R100 and Yellow Cap R200

 

forumRemember you can have your own say on all this week’s matches on our discussion forum

 

*Note, every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of the stats but errors may occur from time to time.