Mon | Dec 17, 2018

KICK-OFF! - Lowly ranked - Russians, Saudis meet to start the greatest show on Earth

Published:Thursday | June 14, 2018 | 12:00 AM

MOSCOW (AP):

The World Cup is set to start and finish with games at the opposite ends of the spectrum.

The lowest-ranked teams at the tournament will meet in the opener today when Russia hosts Saudi Arabia at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, which is also the venue for the July 15 final.

The 70-ranked Russians got an automatic spot as tournament hosts, and the Saudis, ranked at 67, have the lowest ranking of the 31 countries that secured places via qualifying. They're the longest of long shots to reach the final.

The home team will likely need to win to have a realistic hope of advancing from Group A and is expected to have Russian President Vladimir Putin in the crowd for support as it bids to end a winless streak of seven games.

Only one World Cup host nation has failed to get past the group stage - South Africa in 2010.

The other two teams in the group, Egypt and Uruguay, boast star forwards in Mohamed Salah and Luis Suarez, who could cause major problems for the Russia and Saudi defences.

The Saudis lost their last three games but remain upbeat at their first World Cup appearance for 12 years.