HOST: Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov. Photo: Anton Vaganov/Reuters

World Cup hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia, the two lowest-ranked teams at the tournament will kick off the global showpiece on Thursday (5pm). 

Russia have slipped to 70th in the Fifa rankings, which sounds shockingly low for a World Cup team until you glance up to see the Saudis, despite securing automatic qualification from a competitive Asian confederation, at 67. 

Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov has been working overtime trying to rebuild his team, particularly defensively, after a cruel run of serious injuries to some of his most experienced operators.

But the tournament has arrived without him showing much evidence of progress. 

And history is also not on Russia’s side against the Saudis. 

In their only previous meeting, the Middle Eastern nation won the game 4-2.  

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