FIFA Football World Cup 2018: The match is being played at the Luzhniki stadium © AFP
Hosts Russia are under enormous pressure to perform at FIFA World Cup when they face Saudi Arabia in the first match of FIFA World Cup at the 80,000-capacity Luzhniki stadium on June 14. Stanislav Cherchesov-led Russia, ranked 70th in the world, are without a victory in eight months and will eye a change of fortunes and get off to a positive start. A 1-1 draw in Moscow with Turkey last week made former national team goalkeeper Cherchesov the first Russian or Soviet manager to go winless in seven consecutive games, four of those ending in defeat. (Live Score: Russia vs Saudi Arabia)
Russia has spent more than $13 billion on preparations for the big event, and President Vladimir Putin called on the team to pull themselves together as they look to progress from a section also featuring Uruguay and Egypt. Igor Akinfeev, Russia’s most recognisable player and first-choice goalkeeper for more than a decade, admits his team-mates must take the game to the opposition.
Live Updates of 2018 FIFA World Cup, Russia vs Saudi Arabia straight from Luzhniki stadium
Russia have never made the knockout stage of a World Cup as an independent nation and are desperate to make amends this summer. Only South Africa, in 2010, have fallen at the group stage as hosts but poor form combined with a series of injuries have left Russia in disarray. Saudi Arabia are returning to the global showpiece for the first time since 2006, prompting the country’s sports authority to strike a pact to send players on loan to Spain to gain experience at the top level.