MOSCOW: Russia, ranked No 70 in the world and Saudi Arabia at No 67 don’t really make a showpiece game to mark the beginning of the 21st FIFA World Cup at the Luzhniki Stadium here on Thursday.
But, it is what it is.
The first FIFA showpiece event on the Russian land will kick off at 8:30 pm IST and will set the tempo for the one-month long tournament. The pressure of history - the hosts have never lost the tournament opener, weighs down on the shoulder of Russian coach Stanislav Cherchesov, but he was a relaxed man on the eve of the biggest match in the history of Russia despite his side being on the receiving end of a lot of the criticism.
“This is a World Cup. Every team is representing their country; they will do their best. The first game is important; it will set a tone in a certain extent. We are trying to iron out any kinks that we can iron out,” said the 54-year-old former goalkeeper.
“We’re trying to do what we’re doing, and the fact we get criticism is a natural thing in today’s world. The only thing we can do is to continue to train as well as we can to improve the quality of our players. We talk about it every day, but never this subject.
Cherchesov also spoke about the importance of setting the tone with a victory over Saudi Arabia as the hosts believe that they have a real chance to make progress through the group.
But it will be no easy task for the hosts at the packed Luzhniki Stadium after their seven-game winless run which stretched back to October 2017.
Saudi Arabia too would fancy their chances after giving the defending champions Germany run for their money in the friendly last week.
To conclude his pre-match press conference, Russian coach Cherchesov echoed the sentiment of Russian President Vladimir Putin stating that Russia deserves to host the World Cup.
Probably, both teams subconsciously know that they aren’t the best sides playing in the tournament but will have to put on a show as over 3.2 billion people will witness the biggest footballing event in the world begin.
RUSSIA VS SAUDI ARABIA: KEY STATS
- Hosts Russia enter the World Cup as the lowest-ranked of the 32 teams participating in the tournament as they sit 70th in the FIFA rankings while Saudi Arabia are three spots above in 67th.
- Russia last progressed past the World Cup group stage in 1986, when they were part of the Soviet Union national team, while Saudi Arabia’s sole appearance in the last-16 came in 1994. Since then they have lost seven and drawn two of their matches in three World Cups.
- Saudi Arabia won two warm-up matches before losing three in a row, the last being a 2-1 defeat by World Cup holders Germany.
- Russia last won an international match in October 2017, when they beat South Korea 4-2 in a friendly.
- Previous meetings: The teams have played each other once before - in a friendly in 1993, with Saudi Arabia winning 4-2.