Smolov to lead Russia attack as hosts bid to begin World Cup in style

Russia's forward Fyodor Smolov eyes the ball during an international friendly football match between Russia and France at the Saint Petersburg Stadium in Saint Petersburg March 27, 2018. — AFP pic
Russia's forward Fyodor Smolov eyes the ball during an international friendly football match between Russia and France at the Saint Petersburg Stadium in Saint Petersburg March 27, 2018. — AFP pic

MOSCOW, June 14 — Hosts Russia picked stylish striker Fyodor Smolov to lead their attack as they seek to get the World Cup off to a celebratory start with victory in today’s opening game against Saudi Arabia at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium.

The 28-year-old is considered key to Russia’s chances of advancing past the group stage, but he has not scored for his country since the 3-1 loss to France in March.

Sergei Ignashevich, Russia’s 38-year-old defender who recently came out of retirement, also starts as the hosts look to snap a run of seven matches without success, stretching back to last October.

Saudi Arabia kept faith with the majority of the team that lost by a single goal to Germany in their final warmup in Leverkusen, making three changes to last Friday’s starting lineup.

Playmaker Yahya Al-Shehri is expected to be key to Saudi Arabia’s hopes of being able to dictate the pace of the game. — Reuters

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