Monday, June 25, 2018

Prediction: Russia vs Saudi Arabia

Verdict: Saudi Arabia +1.5 Asian handicap

Best Odds: 5/8

Bookmaker: 888sport

Russia were supposed to have an easy job in the opening fixture of the 2018 World Cup against Saudi Arabia, but they could face a difficult task after a series of disappointing performances. The Green Falcons will be hoping the nerves will get to their opponents, giving them a chance to record a positive result at Stadion Luzhniki.

Russia

Even though they had almost four years to prepare for the World Cup on home soil the 2018 tournament seems to come at a bad time for Russia. Many believe that this is one of the country’s weakest squads in recent history, with many players past their prime and others yet to realise their full potential. It is perfectly clear that head coach Stanislav Cherchesov has failed to create a homogenous unit, and the team still rely on individual quality of their players.

I can’t remember the last time World Cup hosts headed into the tournament finals on the back of a seven-match winless run and there are no doubts that the poor run of results will weigh heavily on the players’ shoulders. The fact that the boss has changed his formation to 3-4-2-1 for the final warm-up game is enough to suggest he is still struggling to find his strongest starting XI, which is definitely a bad omen ahead of the Saudi Arabia game. Unless the match officials push World Cup hosts towards victory in their opening match as they usually do, we doubt Russia will emerge victorious from this tie.

Team News

There have been no reported selection problems for Stanislav Cherchesov, who is expected to revert to his preferred 4-1-4-1 formation.

Saudi Arabia

While they failed to qualify for the World Cup finals at first four attempts, Saudi Arabia were successful in their next four and they even reached the first knockout stage in their maiden appearance in 1994. The Green Falcons have not been too successful since, failing to make it to the 2010 and 2014 tournaments, but they impressed to secure an automatic qualifying berth for the tournament in Russia, finishing above Australia.

The national team bosses surprisingly decided to replace head coach Bert van Marwijk with Juan Antonio Pizzi after the successful qualifying campaign, but the Spaniard has since done fairly well at the helm. The experiment that was supposed to help team’s top players gain some La Liga experience through a series of loan deals was a major failure, although the Green Falcons have produced some decent performances in the build up to the 2018 World Cup, losing 2-1 to Italy and Germany, while recording 2-0 wins over Algeria and Greece.

Team News

Experienced players Nasser Al-Shamrani, Mohammad Al-Shalhoub, Nawaf Al-Abed and Hassan Muath have all failed to make the cut.

Key Factors to Consider

  • Russia winless in last seven fixtures (D3 L4)
  • Russia forwards have mere 27 international goals between them
  • These are two lowest ranked sides at the 2018 World Cup
  • Mohammad Al-Sahlawi scored 16 goals in the 2018 WC Qualifiers
  • Saudi Arabia defeated Algeria and Greece in warm-up games

Conclusion

Russia have been utterly disappointing of late and there is a chance home wins will get on their backs in case of a slow start. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, have shown a lot of potential in games against Italy and Germany, and we are backing them to produce another decent performance.

Verdict: Saudi Arabia +1.5 Asian handicap

Best Odds: 5/8

Bookmaker: 888sport

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