WC opening clash: a low-ranked affair
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 Thursday when Russia host Saudi Arabia at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, which is also venue for the July 15 final.
The No 70-ranked Russians got an automatic spot as tournament host and the Saudis, at No 67, have the lowest ranking of the 31 countries which 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 are expected to have Russian President Vladimir Putin in the crowd for support as they bid 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.
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