Finally after months of build-up and discussion, Russia’s 2018 World Cup is finally upon us. We’ll be covering the tournament in great detail here at TheSportsGeek, with all matches discussed and betting picks regularly provided to add a little more excitement to one of sport’s best competitions.
If you’ll recall the Euro 2016 and the 2014 World Cup were both big successes in terms of profitability here at the site, and I’m expecting more of the same from what promises to be a thrilling tournament.
Despite some big nations not qualifying – the U.S., Italy, Netherlands – the quality of soccer on display should be excellent. Some of the sport’s greatest talents will be in attendance, and as is always the case – there should be a ton of memorable moments from Russia 2018.
As is typically the case, the host nation will kick-off the tournament on Thursday morning, against their Group A rivals from Saudi Arabia. As mentioned in my Group A preview, there is a ton of pressure on Russia to advance from the group stage – and it all begins with what they’d expect to be a comfortable win against the Green Falcons of Saudi Arabia. Can the Russians handle the pressure to open the tournament? Read on below for betting odds, prediction, and a full game breakdown.
Russia vs. Saudi Arabia Betting Odds:
- Russia (-245)
- Saudi Arabia (+850)
- Draw (+335)
- Over 2.5 (+110) Under 2.5 (-130)
Russia vs. Saudi Arabia Pick:
For as down as I am on the Russian side entering their hosted tournament, there still exists quite the discrepancy between them and the lowly Saudi Arabians. The Asian qualifying route is quite easy, and Saudi Arabia didn’t exactly instill much confidence as they limped through it. Making matters worse for the Saudis, is the fact that their pre-tournament camp has been littered with turmoil. Their main manager that got them to the World Cup – Bert van Marjwik, resigned and went to manage Australia following some disagreements with upper management. That has created an aura of uncertainty with the Green Falcons, and I’d expect that to play out on Thursday in Moscow.
Russia meanwhile know they simply have to win this match. If they are to progress through Group A – alongside either Uruguay or Egypt, beating Saudi Arabia is a must. Fortunately, despite their mediocre form entering the tournament, they are a class above and should be able to send their home fans happy to kick things off.
Expect Russia to be able to exert their will, specifically in the midfield. They are mostly a mystery side since many of their players stay home in Russia opposed to coming over to the bigger European leagues and refining their craft – but they’ve got some talent. Look for Alan Dzagoev and Aleks Golovin to put on a show in midfield. That duo is crafty and skilled and should be able to provide solid service up front to the talented Fyodor Smolov. Smolov has grown into a prolific scorer with his club side, and if his great form continues – Saudi Arabia won’t have an answer on Thursday.
New Saudi manager Juan Antonio Pizzi will prefer to have his squad sit back and absorb most of the pressure against the Russians. Look for them to start fairly conservative in the early going, perhaps sitting five at the back and hoping to catch the Russians on the counter. That said, this is by no means a defensive stalwart. Their backline is badly aging and a Russian onslaught might be too much for Osama Hasawi and his teammates. And while the Green Falcons do have some talented attackers, I foresee much of the game being played within Saudi Arabia’s own territory. Forcing skilled players like Levante’s Fahad Al-Muwallad to constantly defend is how the Russians can beat them.
Ultimately, I’d expect the Russian talent to win comfortably on home soil. Only one host nation ever has not advanced beyond the group stage at the World Cup, and the Russians desperately don’t want to be the second. To avoid that, they’ll need to rack up a clear three points here, and I can’t see anything outside of a Russian victory. Though they’re laying heavy juice, if you bet Russia on the Asian handicap line at -1 goals, you’re setting yourself up well. If they win by two – you’re a winner, and if they only secure a one-goal win, it pushes. Remember, in the World Cup goal differential really matters – so don’t be surprised to see teams keep pressing for more until the final whistle.