Can Russia do what Brazil couldn't?
Can Russia join the elite group of nations who have won a major tournament on their own patch? Brazil couldn’t manage it last time and seemed to crumble under the pressure of huge expectation and bookmakers remain on the fence concerning the team who didn’t need to qualify.
William Hill are confident enough to offer a market best price 50/1 on Russia winning the World Cup but some firms prefer to wait until the group matches get going before laying their cards on the table and you’ll find as tight as 32/1 at 888Sport. One thing’s for sure, odds-makers know a big effort is required if local fans are to be cheering loudest.
Dropped into Group Group A alongside Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Uruguay, the latter look winners of the pile meaning, at first glance, the race appears to be on for second place between Russia and Egypt. A tough call but this is a division that isn’t beyond them.
Who are the main players in the camp? We pick out our favourite trio…..
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Hammers target expected to impress
Russia were involved in some interesting warm-up matches that prove they can’t be taken lightly this year although we didn’t learn an awful lot about just how far they can go in this tournament. They played out an exciting 3-3 draw with Spain but were beaten 3-0 by Brazil and 3-1 by France. That raises concerns about their defence but in Smolov they have a man who can score goals.
The 28-year-old Krasnodar striker stands at 6ft 1inches tall and banked a delightful double in that six-goal draw vs Spain back in November, netting on 41 and 70 minutes. Miranchuk got the other but Jordi Alba and a Sergio Ramos double ensured an entertaining level finish. West Ham are expected to table a £15m bid for the attacker but that price will surely increase if he performs well in June and July. According to members of the press Smolov is keen on a move to the London Stadium.
The experienced midfielder will be playing in his final World Cup and with the team looking lightweight in attack outside of the threat presented by Smolov the Spartak Moscow man will be expected to get forward and pull his weight with a few goals. That shouldn’t be an issue though as he has already grabbed six in 46 caps.
Put in a poor performance when losing 3-1 to France in a friendly but Les Bleus were in a menacing mood that day with Samedov forced into defensive duties and coming off second best vs Anthony Martial. Played a part in a stunning win for his club side over Sevilla in the Champions League and his big game experience will be vital in the middle of the park. When Samedov plays well, Russia play well.
Another sure to bow out of the international scene in his home tournament is goalkeeper and captain Igor Akinfeev who looks likely to hold onto the number one jersey. The 32-year-old CSKA Moscow shot-stopper played in a 3-0 loss to Brazil in March but took nothing more than his share of the blame for those goals. Was replaced by Lunev for the France game and the team conceded another three.
The Brazil match may have knocked team morale a little, but they should get over it in good time for the big kick-off given the level of opposition and won’t face anyone near that standard during the group schedule. It would’ve been worse vs Samba had it not been for Akinfeev who made a couple of crucial saves. With nerves sure to creep into the squad as we approach the opening ceremony, Igor’s calming nature and experience should rub off onto those around him.