Writing about Football on a Throwball blog. Or maybe its futbal on a football blog. Having spent 40 years with soccer, I’m looking forward to guiding UltimateNYG readers through the world’s biggest, most extravagant, and potentially volatile sporting event.
Thursday is the opening game between the host nation Russia and Saudi Arabia. Cup openers are usually cautious, sometimes boring games. But there is a lot of volatility in this one, with the two teams ranked among the worst three in the 32-team tournament. We understand that the result will be used to break a deadlock in oil export quota negotiations.
The Saudis just might go for it. Middle Eastern teams play quickly and stay compact. The Saudis are one of those teams that just might sting if underestimated. Russian soccer is in a trough at the moment, and it is rarely one of Europe’s top teams. There will be pressure on the Russians not to lose, and that just might give the Saudis courage to go forward.
World Cup group stages are highly tactical. With three points for a win and one for a draw, four points from three matches will usually be enough to advance to the round of 16. Losing the first game puts a team in a massive statistical hole.
Saudi Arabia’s top player is its number 10, Mohammad al-Sahlawi. He was loaned for three weeks in April to Manchester United and may be in dangerous form for the Green Falcons.
Alexandr Kokorin, one of Russia’s top strikers is injured and will miss the tournament. They do have some talent and the winger Denis Cheryshev, number six, is an inventive and dynamic player, but an infrequent starter for the national team. Aspiring rapper Fedor Smolov is their main scorer, and Russia’s goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev is Russia’s captain and a highly experienced Russian and Champions League veteran.
Tactically, Russia will play three defenders and two wide midfielders who will attack the flanks and fall back to help the defenders. Three central midfielders will look to supply balls for two strikers up top.
Juan Pizzi’s Saudi Arabia will likely play a 4-3-3, stay compact, and hit on the counterattack.
Expect a tactical effort from the Russian and to be pleasantly surprised by some Saudi flair and technique.
The tournament moves into full swing beginning on Friday, and we will be back soon.