World Cup 2018 gets going today with the traditional opener involving the hosts as Russia hosts Saudi Arabia. The only host to fail to advance from their group is South Africa in 2010, and in Group A the Russians find themselves in a pretty viable position to get through. Those hopes probably hinge on a win today, which is something you can also say about the Green Falcons, their opponents today.
If you believe the FIFA rankings (which are far from great), the hosts actually have found themselves one of the weakest groups in World Cup history. At the time of the draw, Russia and Saudi Arabia were the bottom teams in Pot 1 and Pot 4, respectively, with Russia actually the lowest-ranked team in the entire field back then. Uruguay was seventh of the eight teams in Pot 2, and Egypt was sixth in Pot 3.
That won’t reduce the value of the points today, though, and a winner in this game has a very real chance of a spot in the knockout round.
What to watch for: We tend to think soccer is a very cosmopolitan sport, but what we have here today is almost an all-star game between the Russian Premier League and the Saudi Professional League. Of the 46 players on the rosters of these sides, 41 play in their domestic league. All three Saudi players that are based elsewhere play in Spain, but there is at least some controversy surrounding those moves, which La Liga administered themselves (hey, like MLS!).
Russia’s roster gets a higher level of competition, especially since most players are on teams that played in the Champions League or Europa League this past year. However, the wages Russian players can get at home dwarf what they’d get elsewhere, and that has lead to some stagnation (hey, like MLS!). Head coach Stanislav Cherchesov has five players over the age of 32, including 38-year-old center back Sergei Ignashevich. For a tournament in the summer and played over a short period of time, that’s...not great.
Location: Luzhniki Stadium (Moscow)
Kickoff time: 11:00am Eastern
Available TV: Fox, Telemundo
Available streaming: Telemundo (that’s a direct link friends, click and watch), Fox Sports Go
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.