The 2018 World Cup kicks off on Thursday, as the host nation Russia takes on Saudi Arabia. While the opening ceremony will get you plenty hyped for the next month of soccer, Thursday’s only action is between the two lowest-ranked teams in the tournament. Russia’s World Cup odds aren’t promising as hosts, but they should have just enough to avoid being the first host nation to lose the opening game of the World Cup.
Russia vs. Saudi Arabia Odds
Relying heavily on home-field advantage, Russia are -220 favorites to win the opener. OddsShark.com lists Saudi Arabia as a massive +848 underdog on the moneyline, while the draw is priced at +380.
Russia is a -1 favorite at -130, with Saudi Arabia +115 getting a goal (5Dimes).
The goal total for the opener is down to just 2 at 5dimes, with the over at -137 and the under +122.
Russia vs. Saudi Arabia Prediction
If you can’t tell from the odds, don’t expect much offense from the long-awaited opener. Russia play a slow, conservative style, and they’ll likely try to hold the ball as much as possible. That’s because the Russians biggest liability is on defense, and Saudi Arabia have one super striker capable of delivering a shock result.
Mohammad al-Sahlawi scored 16 goals in qualifying, more than any individual on the planet. Al-Sahlawi is a two-time player of the year in the Saudi league, where most of this team’s roster plays club football. That makes it tough to compare them to other players on the international stage, but among them, al-Sahlawi is the most dangerous.
And then there’s the Russian defense. Two knee injuries have forced serious depth problems on the back line, forcing 38-year old Sergei Ignashevich out of retirement and potentially into the starting lineup.
On the whole, neither of these teams are very good. Russia is the lowest-ranked team in the tournament, and have not won an international match since October. Their best offensive threat, Alexander Kokorin, is out with a knee injury.
Outside of al-Sahlawi, Saudi Arabia don’t have much to brag about, either. They’re winless in their last 10 World Cup games, and are winless in their last five opening matches. They’re also on their third manager since qualifying, but former Chile boss Juan Antonio Pizzi is one of the team’s strongest assets.
Pizzi has pulled major upsets in tournaments before, winning two Copa America tournaments with Chile. He’ll have Saudi Arabia well-organized, and instill in them the mindset that they have a real chance at points in this matchup.
There’s just no value in taking a garbage team like Russia as a huge favorite. But a double result, like Draw HT/Russia FT at +295 on 5Dimes, is a much more exciting proposition. To be clear, that’s a draw at the half and Russia winning the second half.
If I’m betting on anything in the opening match (which I am), it’s going to be the under. Both teams want to start the tournament with a point, and that means a lack of risk-taking in attack. Russia may have a shaky defense, but it’s bolstered by veteran goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev. The real action starts on Friday.
Prediction: Russia win 1-0