The opening game of the 21st FIFA World Cup, between Russia and Saudi Arabia, will take place at the Luzhniki Arena in Moscow on June 14th. The Russians are considered as strong favorites to begin the competition with a victory, but the Green Falcons don’t have anything to lose and will play without an imperative to get a win here.v
Russia vs. Saudi Arabia
Three-Way: 1: Russia -333; X: +375 Draw; 2: Saudi Arabia +1100 by BetDSI Sportsbook.
Spread -1.5: Russia +106; Saudi Arabia -139
Total 2.5 goals: Over +114; Under -152
After failing to reach the Round of 16 in the previous three World Cups, Russia will try to do it as the host nation this time around. The draw was rather kind to the Russians who got Uruguay, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia in the Group A, and although they get to play the weakest side in the group right away in the opener, the matches that are won in advance are sometimes the hardest ones to win.
The biggest part of head coach Stanislav Cherchesov’s side is composed of the individuals who are playing in the domestic league, and despite losing some of the most experienced players such as Vasili Berezutski, Aleksei Berezutski, and Sergei Ignashevich who said their farewell to the national team, the Sbornaya is still a better team than Saudi Arabia.
They might have problems at the back as all three players played a vital part in the defense for years, but the hosts will try to make up for that with strong, talented midfield and a pair of big guys up front. Alan Dzagoev, the technically most-gifted Russian, is the biggest star of this team, but Aleksandr Golovin, Denis Cheryshev, and Aleksei Miranchuk are also the ones to watch. In the attack, Fyodor Smolov and Artem Dzyuba will provide strength and presence in the air, which should come quite handy against the Green Falcons.
Unlike the Russians, Saudi Arabia qualified to the Round of 16 in their first appearance in the World Cup in the USA 1994 but didn’t do it since, and after four straight participations, the Green Falcons missed out on the tournaments in South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014. They are labeled as the weakest team in this group and the bookies are giving them small chance to advance to the next stage, so Saudi Arabia can play without a pressure.
However, their FA is doing a good work in creating a stable team that is capable of leaving a mark, and the raw proof for it is the appointment of former Chile’s head coach, Juan Antonio Pizzi. The former Barcelona forward won the Copa America with Chile and took them to the FIFA Confederations Cup finals last year, so he has accomplishments to talk instead of him. Pizzi’s tactics and motivational speeches will be the Green Falcon’s biggest strengths here as they don’t have a quality squad, which mainly consists of the players who are playing in Saudi Arabia.
Perhaps the biggest star in this side is the striker Mohammed Al-Sahlawi, and he should be the man to watch on this one following phenomenal displays in the qualification games, scoring 16 goals and leading the Asian continent in that regard. Most of the attacks are going through Al-Sahlawi, so Saudi Arabia will likely base their game around the forward, who can be lethal in front of Igor Akinfeev’s net.
Selecting Russia to win at -333 is an unnecessary risk, and going with the -1.5 spread at +106 is probably a better option, but I am not quite convinced that the hosts will beat Saud Arabia by two goals difference. Even scoring one goal could turn out to be a hard labor for the Russians, so I would go with under 2.5 goals at -152 as I don’t think the underdogs will find the net here, and I don’t believe Russia will score more than two.
The Pick: Under 2.5 goals (-152)