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Match Preview: Group A: Russia v Saudi Arabia

The stage is set for World Cup curtain raiser


Russia v Saudi Arabia – Thursday 14th June, 16:00, ITV

After all the waiting we are finally ready for the world’s biggest sporting event to kick off. Russia against Saudi Arabia might not be the most pulse-racing of fixtures but there’s value to be had, with the hosts looking massively overrated in the betting.

Many have immediately dismissed Saudi Arabia’s chances, but the Green Falcons are three places above their hosts according to FIFA’s latest rankings. Certainly, Russia look to be lacking in the sort of firepower that you’d like to see from a team if you were backing them at 1.37. They’ve scored just once in their two warm-up friendlies, against Austria and Turkey, and the absence of Zenit St. Petersburg’s Aleksandr Kokorin, who ruptured cruciate ligaments back in March, has hampered an attack that already lacked in the creativity and finishing departments.

As such we wouldn’t put anyone off backing the Saudis, who qualified directly, pushing Australia into the play-off qualifiers, to cause a surprise, with the draw offering decent value. However, the best bet must be for this to finish with fewer than three goals. The Saudis have been together longer as a group in the build-up to this than almost any other team – playing five pre-tournament friendlies – and while their pressing game can be picked apart by better sides, the 2-0 wins they recorded against Algeria and Greece show it can be effective against teams more like Russia. Moreover, Russia have won none of their last eight games at the Euros or World Cup as they’ve scored just six times and six have had fewer than three goals.

However, if they are to score, then the absence of Kokorin means Fedor Smolov is the main man. Once the butt of many a joke in Russia, his form and output have improved substantially over the past few years and he’s netted seven times in his last 14 appearances for Russia, grabbing the first of the game in half the six matches in which he found himself on the scoresheet.


Under 2.5 Goals at 1.66

Fedor Smolov first goalscorer at 3.80

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