Russia vs Saudi Arabia Live: While Russia may edge the odds on this one pre-kick off, they have to be cautious at the back, with the Saudis more than capable of finding the target.
Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev has been between the sticks for his nation for years and has amassed 106 caps during his grip on the number one shirt.
Al-Sahlawi has less than half of that amount, but has scored 28 international goals in his 40 caps at a rate of 07 goals per game. The Al-Nassr striker scored 16 goals during qualifying and played a major part in getting his country to the party.
With South American giants Uruguay and a Mo Salah-led Egypt the other two nations in Group A, both sides will see this opener as their best chance to get a win on the board.
With the fitness of Egypt’s talismanic Salah still in question, the door for the runners-up spot may have opened a little wider.
Russia vs Saudi Arabia
Few would consider Russia’s chances of going to the tournaments latter stages as high, but locals will still have some hope and expectation of their side.
Hosting a major tournament always provides a difficult challenge, though Russia will hope to do all they can to rise to it. You need only look at Brazil’s semi-final capitulation in 2014 to understand how pressure and expectation can affect a nation.
Saudi Arabia go into the tournament as arguably one of the lesser-known sides, but it can be something they can use to their advantage.
Pizzi’s side have also used their preparation time effectively, having played friendlies with a range of nations from different parts of the world, winning two and losing three since May.
The host nation will be considered favourites for this one, but the recent form and lack of any real warm-up schedule is slightly alarming from a Russian perspective. Frankly, not a lot has gone right.
The home side have not won in seven games (a run that stretches back to the beginning of October), which could generate an overhead cloud of pressure before kick-off.
Saudi Arabia’s ‘unknown’ factor might prove a bigger tool than most realise; only three members of the squad play their domestic football outside the Saudi Pro League and they proved their ability to compete with talented sides, with narrow defeats to both Germany and Italy.
Rewards for winning this opening fixture may be so great that neither side will want to lose it, pertaining to a turgid draw.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Russia, Saudi Arabia and the rest of Group A in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.
Many have written off their chances, but the Saudis will fancy themselves to at least emerge from a group with no clear favourite.
Akinfeev is prone to mistakes in high profile games and made a critical error in Russia’s 2014 World Cup opener against South Korea. He was also at fault for the 2-1 defeat to Mexico in last years Confederation’s Cup, as well as famously going 12 years without a Champions League clean sheet.
There’s also no fitter person to present the World Cup trophy itself than Ronaldo, who took a World Cup Golden Boot (2002), a Golden Ball (1998) and a World Cup Silver Ball (2002) to go along with his two tournament wins.
Another big draw of the opening ceremony is the chance to see Smith once again singing live, having had a hand in creating the 2018 World Cup theme song, “Live It Up.”
Make what you will of the South American-inspired dance song, which also features American singer Nicky Jam and Era Istrefi: