Little is expected of Russia at the tournament, but their best chance of qualifying for the knockout stage involves beating a nation making their first World Cup appearance since 2006.
Saudi Arabia enter the competition led by their third coach in less than a year, and know only a positive result against Russia will give them hope of being competitive in a wide open Group A.
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66 mins: Russia 2-0 Saudi Arabia: Twenty minutes into this second half, and it has been flat to say the least. The hosts appear prepared to sit on their lead while Saudi Arabia look unable to find a way in which to trouble the Russian defence.
64 mins: Russia 2-0 Saudi Arabia: The Saudis make their first change of the game and it’s an attacking one. Off goes the defensive-minded Abdullah Otayf to be replaced by forward Fahad Almuwallad.
The Russians respond in kind by replacing Aleksandr Samedov with Daler Kuzyaev.
58 mins: Another Saudi Arabia half-chance as Salman Al Faraj flicks a back-header well wide of goal. A poor effort. Still, at least he hasn’t embarrassed himself as much as his almost-namesake often does.
54 mins: Saudi Arabia enjoy a lengthy spell of possession as they search for a route back into this one, and they very nearly find a goal. It’s little more than a hopeful inswinging cross from the right, but the Russians switch off that almost allows Yahya Al Sahlawi the chance to slide in and score. Almost.
50 mins: Saudi Arabia continue to show flashes of skill in their build-up play but they are looking a disaster in defence. The most basic of long balls over the top should be easily dealt with but a slip from Al-Breik puts Smolov through on goal. The right-back eventually recovers to turn behind for a corner.
SECOND HALF KICK-OFF: Two goals to the good and playing on the home soil, life is pretty good for the Russians as they kick-off the second half. Putin looks pretty satisfied too, smiling to himself up in the stands. We’re all safe for another day or two,
HALF-TIME – RUSSIA 2 SAUDI ARABIA 0:
45 mins: There will be two minutes of added time to be played at the end of a first half that could not have got much better for the Russians.
43 mins: GOAL! RUSSIA 2 SAUDI ARABIA 0:
Off the bench, Denis Cheryshev has scored his first international goal and Russia are well on their way to an opening day win. The Saudis had begun to lose their shape in the previous minutes and looked fragile when the hosts countered. So it proved, as the Russian drove down the right, eventually working the ball across an open defence. Opportunity arose for Roman Zobnin on the edge of the area to feed in Cheryshev to his left, but his pass was underhit. However, a lovely first touch from the substitute took him back inside the diving pair of Mohammed Al-Breik and Omar Hawsawi, and beyond Abdullah Otayf. That piece of skill was then followed up by a drive into the roof of the net at the near post to spark celebratory scenes in the stadium and across Moscow.
35 mins: A couple of incidents for Nestor Pitana to assess. Wonderful trickery from Fedor Smolov just inside the Saudi half opened up for space but, just as the Russian released Aleksandr Golovin, he was tripped from behind by Taisir Al Jassam. The referee waved played on, allowing Golovin to drive into the area, where he went down under the challenge of Osama Hawsawi. Once again, the Argentine official was in the right place to signal no penalty.
30 mins: That injury has rocked Russia, and it may be the opportunity Saudi Arabia near to find an equalise. A free-kick from the right has them camped in the home side’s box, only for Salem Al Dawsari to head over the bar.
22 mins: Two Saudi Arabia corners in quick succession threaten to get the Green Falcons back into the game. The second of those is cleared and Russia take the opportunity to attack at pace. Too much pace. Looking to tear away into space, Alan Dzagoev’s sprint is cut short as the midfielder pulls up clutching his hamstring.
It’s immediately clear that the CSKA man won’t be able to continue and, most likely, has played his final part in this World Cup. He is replaced by Denis Cheryshev.
20 mins: Russia are pushing for a second…and as I write that Yahya Al Sahlawi almost forces an equaliser.
14 mins: In the stands, Vladimir Putin looks a very happy man. Which is always a major concern for the rest of us.
12 mins: GOAL! RUSSIA 1 SAUDI ARABIA 0:
Russia take the lead at their own World Cup! It’s a first international goal for Yuri Gazinskiy, who plants his header beyond Abdullah Al-Mayoof with great composure. It was third time lucky as Yury Zhirkov swung over a corner from the left, once again cleared out of the box. However, the hosts kept the ball alive and when Roman Zobnin sent in a curling delivery, there was the Krasnador man to score. There was a hint of a push on a defender as Gazinskiy met the cross enough, but not enough to warrant the Argentine referee Nestor Pitana to consult VAR.
10 mins: Another Russia corner, another taken by Zhirkov. The former Chelsea man completely overhits his delivery and gives Saudi Arabia the opportunity to counter – ultimately to no avail.
9 mins: The first WTF moment from Clive Tyldesley this tournament as he goes into the finer details of Stalin’s moustache.
6 mins: It’s frantic end-to-end stuff so far, both teams so excited to get going after the months of build-up. On the left, Saudi Arabia are impressing where Yasser Al Shahrani and Yahya Al Sahlawi are linking together well.
3 mins: Russia retaliate and win the game’s first corner. Yury Zhirkov swings it out from the left, but his cross is convincingly cleared by Omar Hawsawi.
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What time is kick-off?
Russia vs Saudi Arabia kicks off at 4pm.
Where can I watch it?
The game will be broadcast live on ITV. Coverage begins with the opening ceremony at 2:30pm.
Saudi Arabia: 10/1
Russia 1-0 Saudi Arabia: The hosts will get the positive start they so desperately want, but it won’t be easy.