THE World Cup kicks off in Russia on Thursday night (AEST) as years of preparations dogged by diplomatic scandals give way to a month of action on the field in football’s global showpiece.
Russia get the ball rolling against Saudi Arabia at the completely refurbished 80,000-capacity Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow after an opening ceremony attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Saudi Arabia will become the first Asian nation to play in a World Cup opening match but expectations for the continent are decidedly low for the hosts.
Russia v Saudi Arabia kicks off 1am Friday AEST. Follow live below!
The Saudis, who pipped Australia to a direct place at the 2018 tournament in qualifying, have been rewarded with the highest-profile group stage match. It’s the first time in the 80-year history of the tournament that an Asian side will kick off the event.
Russia enter their first home World Cup in the worst possible form. They have beaten both Russian and Soviet records by going winless in seven matches and slumping to 70th in the world, the lowest of the 32 teams in the tournament.
“We have to take all the criticism and turn it into something positive,” Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov said.
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