Russia vs Saudi Arabia preview, betting tips and prediction
Russia to score a penalty @ 11/2 with Betfair
The pressure is on for Russia to begin their World Cup competently when they open against Saudi Arabia on Thursday. Locals aren’t overly optimistic about the chances of a group of players that have underperformed for several years. Those Russian failures at major tournaments were largely excused because the team was ‘in a period of transition’ and working towards the 2018 World Cup on home soil. Now the time for excuses is over. That won’t stop a few being offered when things are especially dire. One you might hear is that Stanislav Cherchesov’s squad selection was hindered by injuries to key players such as Aleksandr Kokorin. That’s one that they might have a point with.
While Russia have quality, the starting XI that Cherchesov fields will have a combination of too many second-rate players and too many veterans. They might make it out of the group stage but even that is looking like a tall enough task. Saudi Arabia were expected to be polite guests and suffer defeat but their performances in the build-up to the tournament have pundits reassessing a side bossed by Copa-America-winning former Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi.
To say that Russia’s form going into the tournament isn’t ideal is putting it mildly. Their last win came against South Korea in a friendly in October 2017. Four defeats have followed in the seven warm-up matches since. While the calibre of opponents has been high (defeats coming against tournament favourites Brazil, Argentina and France), they also lost to Austria and were held by Iran and, in their most recent outing, Turkey. Their goal in that 1-1 stalemate was the only shot that they had on target. It does not bode well.
Saudi Arabia enter the World Cup on the back of three successive defeats but the showings were far from disastrous. Pizzi will be encouraged by how closely they ran Germany in Leverkusen, almost scoring a last-minute goal to stop a 2-1 defeat. They didn’t show fear against the World Cup holders and this brazen attitude will worry the hosts.
Veteran defender Yuri Zhirkov, formerly of Chelsea and currently plying his trade at club level for Zenit, has apparently recovered from an injury he was carrying. That leaves Russia at full strength.
Saudi Arabia managed to get through their final warm-up game against Germany without suffering any injuries so they should also have a full roster to choose from.