Fifa World Cup 2018: Russia vs Saudi Arabia

Football fans around the world have been waiting on the start of the 2018 World Cup for years, and the wait is now over. Russia takes on Saudi Arabia in the first match of the World Cup 2018 at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow (11 a.m. ET) on Thursday. Russia is a -230 money-line favorite (bet $230 to win $100) on their home turf. The over-under, or total number of goals oddsmakers think will be scored, is 2. Before you bet on Russia vs. Saudi Arabia in the opening 2018 World Cup match, you need to see who football expert Thomas Rongen is backing.

He’s the former assistant coach and chief international scout for the U.S. men’s national teams and was the former head coach of the U.S. men’s Under-20 team. He also was named MLS coach of the year in 1996 for the Tampa Bay Mutiny.

Rongen has broken down every World Cup roster and locked in his pick at SportsLine for Russia vs. Saudi Arabia. Rongen has identified the X-factor that will determine the outcome based on his inside knowledge of these players and coaches.

The match will start following an opening extravaganza at the host stadium that is expected to include approximately 500 performers, including gymnasts and dancers. International pop star Robbie Williams will perform alongside rising Russian artist Aida Garifullina.

Then, the focus will turn to the pitch. Rongen knows both clubs have faced adversity in preparations for the 2018 World Cup, but they have their sights set on a hope-inspiring victory.

Russia enters the opening match in full strength, but they have yet to win a friendly in 2018, with two of the matches coming against World Cup favorites Brazil and France. They will hope those games against formidable opponents will have them ready to get their first ever taste of knockout stage if they can escape Group A.

Russia is led by striker Fedor Smolov. He is a real threat in front of goal, evident by his 63 goals in 99 appearances in all competitions for FC Krasnodar. The Russians are a physical team that will need to beat Saudi Arabia in order to have a chance at advancing to the 2018 World Cup knockout stage, but with a slip-up in their opener, the hosts are probably done.

Rongen also knows Saudi Arabia has fired two coaches since qualifying for the FIFA World Cup 2018. Juan Antonio Pizzi was recently named to lead the team, whose second-round exit in 1994 is its best finish. Pizzi takes over after failing to get Chile to the World Cup through the qualifying stage.