Goal brings you all the details and information you need to know ahead of the opening World Cup game between Russia and Saudi Arabia
This year’s World Cup finals will open with a Group A fixture between host nation Russia and Saudi Arabia on June 14 at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, kicking off the beginning of the group stages.
Thursday’s match will be the only one held on that day to coincide with the opening ceremony, with three group stage fixtures taking place each day until June 28.
Russia are first-time hosts of the tournament and qualified automatically, and will be making their fourth appearance at the finals since 1990.
Asian qualifiers Saudi Arabia’s best result at a World Cup was finishing in the last 16 in 1994, and will be hoping for a better finish this tournament.
Goal brings you all you need to know ahead of the clash between the two sides that follows the opening ceremony.
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Russia don’t boast a roster of standout players, so will be having to rely on the emerging talents of Aleksandr Golovin, who is their most dangerous attacking player and aged just 22. Aleksandr Kokorin misses out on the tournament due to an injury, and it is a blow for Russia as he would have been the first-choice striker.
Ex-Chelsea full-back Zhirkov is nearing the end of his international career, and playing the finals in his home country would be the perfect send-off.
Potential Russia XI: Akinfeev; Zhirkov, Kutepov, Ignashevich, Fernandes; Golovin, Anton Miranchuk, Zobnin, Samedov; Dzagoev, Smolov
Saudi Arabia’s three key men lie in Al-Abed, Al-Muwall and Al-Shehri. Al-Abed netted five times in the qualification stages and remains to be Saudi Arabia’s top-scorer en route to the finals, while Al-Mulwall netted the goal that secured his nation’s participation in Russia.
Al-Shehri provides the most experience for his team, having been in the side since 2009 and is only 27 years of age.
Potential Saudi Arabia XI: Al-Muaiouf, Al-Burayk, Al-Boleahi, Hawsawi, Al-Harbi, Al-Faraj, Ali-Khaibari, Kanno, Al-Jassim, Al-Shehri, Al-Sahlawi
The two teams are not seen as favourites to progress through to the last 16 as the two other Group A teams are Uruguay and Egypt – who possess both individual and collective talent – but, as ever, surprises are expected to be in store.
Russia will be looking to impress their fans on home turf when they open the tournament proper, having underperformed in Brazil in 2014 after crashing out in the group stages following a loss to Belgium and failure to register victory against South Korea and Algeria.
Their form at Euro 2016 wasn’t great either, picking up just one point in the group stages against England, and will be given the opportunity to redeem themselves when they host the finals in familiar territory.
“We can’t really influence people’s opinions, we can only see what kind of a group we have,” said head coach Stanislav Cherchesov. “We have been studying our opponents from day one.
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“There are no weak teams in any of the groups. The first game is important so it will set the tone to a certain extent. We are trying to iron out any kinks we have.
Russia, however, have never made it out of the group stages in the World Cup since the breaking up of the USSR and will be anxious to announce themselves to not only their own fans, but to the football world.
Saudi Arabia’s run-up to the finals were a difficult endeavour, having qualified for second place above Australia on only goal difference (+2). They were the only nation, along with England, whose players all play for their respective domestic league – until May, when Al-Muwallad featured for Levante in May at the end of the La Liga season.