Fifa World Cup 2018: Lots to see in low-key start | Daily Star

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12:00 AM, June 14, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:46 PM, June 17, 2018

Lots to see in low-key start

The stage is all set in Russia. Time for all eyes to turn to Moscow as the greatest show on Earth is about to get underway at the Luzhniki Stadium today.

No, the tournament is unlikely to start with a glittering opening like it had in Brazil four years ago. The hosts pledge to kick it off in typical Russian fashion: cool and composed, almost like its military displays.

No, the opening affair is unlikely to offer a cracker of a match that would send Bangladesh into frenzy over fan rivalries. The tournament begins with a match between a weak group's weaker teams in Russia and Saudi Arabia -- the ones that generate little or no interest among fans in our part of the world. This World Cup appears to be saving the best games for the latter parts of the fixture this time.

But do not be so sure of that fact as to turn your eyes away from the TV set. It's a World Cup, and you never know which team will come up with a heart-stopper and which also-rans suddenly win new fans! And even if the players fail to prove pessimists wrong, two strong men -- Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabia's king-to-be Mohammed bin Salman -- will be there in the stands to give us reason to stay tuned even if the action is underwhelming.

Russia have qualified for the World Cup as hosts and, just like South Africa in 2010, are ranked lowest among the teams. It goes without question that Russia are a team full of experienced players in the likes of Dzagoev, Cheryshev and Samedov, but it sorely lacks firepower. Of course, a fired-up home crowd may provide extra fuel to the ageing but agile bunch of creative players. And if they can overcome the Saudi hurdle, Russia will move a step closer to moving onto the next round ahead of two other highly rated teams from Group A -- Uruguay and Egypt.

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Saudi Arabia, on the hand, are plagued by various problems ever since they qualified for the World Cup for the fifth time. With two coaches being fired in the process of qualification and a respected Juan Antonio Pizzi taking over barely before catching the flight to Moscow, the Saudis are more disturbed than prepared.

They are most likelyto play three group games and head home. Saudi Arabia are strong up front but weak in  defence. And their only hope of extending their stint in the tournament rests on the shoulders of super-fast strikers Mohammad Al Sahlawi and Fahad Al-Muwallad. Being a strong counterattacking side, they may opt to sit back, absorb pressure and surprise the Russian defence with sudden bursts of speed.

It's still not hard to predict the result. I see a wry smile at the corner of Putin's mouth.

The writer is former Sports Editor of The Daily Star

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