Russia, Saudi Arabia Set to Kick Off World Cup

The teams are the lowest-ranked in the World Cup field

The World Cup will get underway on Thursday, as host Russia will play Saudi Arabia in the opening game of the tournament.

The opening game features the two lowest-ranked teams in this year’s field, as host Russia checks in at 70th in the latest FIFA world ranking. Saudi Arabia is scarcely better, ranking 67th, but the two sides will both hope to pick up three points in the opening game of the event.

Keys to Victory:

Russia -

For the Russian side, the key to victory will be fairly simple: putting the ball in the net.

Unfortunately, that has been anything but simple for the squad in the run-up to the World Cup. Russia has only scored two goals in its last four friendlies before the competition, going 0-3-1 in those matches.

Saudi Arabia -

The Saudi squad has also struggled to score, picking up two goals in their last three games against Italy, Peru, and Germany, but more importantly they’ll have to display better goaltending and defense. They’ve allowed at least two goals in each of their last three games, including two against Germany last week.

Possible 2026 World Cup Host Cities

The United States, Canada and Mexico won a joint bid to host the 2026 World Cup. Click on each spot to see if your city, and your stadium, is in the running.

Data: Canada Soccer, Mexican Football Federation, U.S. Soccer Federation
Interactive: Scott Gelman, Nina Lin/NBC

Players to Watch:

Russia -

Russia has struggled to score, but they could get a good boost out of Fyodor Smolov, the Krasnodar striker who scored 52 goals in 73 appearances with the team this season.

He has eight shots in his international appearances thus far this year, with one goal to his credit, and he’ll be viewed as the key contributor to the team’s offense.

Saudi Arabia -

Midfielder Taisir Al-Jassim, who scored in Saudi Arabia’s last friendly against Germany, has a wealth of international experience, appearing in 132 games since the 2004 season. He has racked up 14 shots this year for Saudi Arabia, and is one of the biggest drivers of the team’s offense.

Did You Know?

Russia will be looking to avoid joining an exclusive club when they participate in this year’s tournament. Ever since the World Cup began, only one host, South Africa, has failed to get out of the group stage, and Russia will have to get through Saudi Arabia, Uruguay, and Egypt in order to avoid a similar fate to the 2010 hosts.

The opening match will kick off at 10 a.m. Central time, and can be seen on Telemundo Chicago and the NBC Sports app. 

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