We’re finally here! After months of qualification, training, “friendlies“ and anticipation, the opening match of the 2018 World Cup tournament kicks off in 15 minutes (as of the posting of this article). Following a lavish opening ceremony that featured upwards of 500 performers, Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium is the venue for the match that will launch the World Cup: the host country’s match against its first group rival, Saudi Arabia.
It’s probably a good thing that the football match is scheduled to follow a high-profile TV lead-in on the opening day of the World Cup, because the game would probably be a ratings stinker otherwise. Saudi Arabia has sacked two managers since qualifying for the tournament, one more than Spain. The current gaffer was hired only seven months ago, following his resignation from Chile after failing to qualify them for the World Cup.
As for Russia, it has been a decade since they advanced beyond the group stage of any international tournament. They are winless in their last seven matches and are currently ranked 70th in the world by FIFA, the worst ranking of any side in the tournament (remember, there are only 32 teams). Nevertheless, they were able to bypass the inconvenience of having to qualify for the World Cup by virtue of their status as the host country.
Further, neither side boasts international all-stars with names that are well-known to Western audiences. So on paper, this is hardly a made-for-TV match up. But since the other two teams in Group A are Mo Salah’s Egypt and Luis Suarez / Edson Cavani’s Uruguay, Russia and Saudi Arabia will both view today’s game as critical for their chances to advance, so both will desperately want a result.
Well, FIFA ranks Saudi Arabia 67th, so on that basis the Saudis are favored. But in the last 20 years, four of the six host nations have advanced to at least the semi-finals. And only one host nation has ever failed to advance beyond the Group Stage (South Africa in 2010). So it’s safe to say that there is at least some advantage that accrues to Russia as the home side. I’ll roll with that and say Russia takes three points from this one.
Will the two lowest ranked teams in the whole tournament turn in a dull and languid display, or will this instead be an entertaining golazo fest between two shambolic defenses? Could we even be treated to a dramatic cage match between two teams fighting tooth and nail to prevail in a must-win game?
Frankly, I couldn’t care less about either team, but as a fan of the game, I’ll be hoping for entertainment and drama. In any case, the bottom line is that it’s the opening day of the 2018 World Cup, and I’m just excited to finally have the world’s biggest sporting event on my TV screen!
Are you as excited about the start of the World Cup as I am? Whom do you pick to win today? Do you have even one Russian or Saudi player in any of your fantasy squads? Speaking of fantasy squads, what did you end up with at the deadline, and what is your bench / captain substitution plan this week? Come on in and join the conversation in the comments section below!