The 2018 World Cup kicks off this evening with hosts Russia seeking to prevent unwanted history.
The Russians must avoid defeat against Saudi Arabia in Moscow in order not to be the first hosts to ever lose the opening match at a World Cup.
Since the first World Cup in Uruguay in 1930, no host team has lost in the opening match. There have been six victories and three draws for the home side.
Now, 1432 days after Germany defeated Argentina in the Brazil 2014 final, Russia aim to continue the tradition of undefeated hosts on opening day.
However, both sides’ recent form has been poor.
Russia have failed to win in seven friendlies since beating Korea in October, while the Saudis have lost three friendly matches in a row – although they faced strong opposition in Italy, Peru and world champions Germany.
Both will also be hoping for victory at the Luzhniki to end a barren World Cup run: Russia have not won at the World Cup since 2002, while Saudi Arabia’s last global finals’ victory came at USA 1994.
The Russians are upbeat about their chances though, winger Aleksandr Samedov trotting out the ‘motivation’ line.
“The motivation for these tournaments is special,” Samedov told FIFA.com. “Every day you try to work at your maximum level.
“I already know what a World Cup is all about and how intense it is. It’s the highest stage you can play on. I’m staying calm in my preparations because psychology is an important factor too, although the pressure is there. It’s our home World Cup and we’re kick-starting the tournament. The whole world will be watching us.”
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