So it’s finally here: The Greatest Show on Earth will commence this afternoon. Moscow will host the opening ceremony for which we can all just stay sat in the garden for an extra hour before battle commences with The hosts facing Saudi Arabia.
On a personal note this is the strangest start to a World Cup I’ve experienced as I’m writing this having just arrived home from a fabulous 2 week summer holiday- so I’m experiencing a strange cocktail of World Cup Fever & Post Holiday depression!
My own mixed emotions pale into insignificance compared with those of Spain’s World Cup squad with yesterday’s shock announcement that coach Julen Lopetegui had been fired after it was announced he is joining Real Madrid after the World Cup.
For all the shock of his firing Lopetegui gave the Spanish FA little choice, plenty of World Cup managers will be leaving their post after the tournament but to announce it days beforehand is ridiculous- how on earth will the Barca & Athleti contingents of Spain’s squad feel about their manager announcing once this tournament’s done he’s joining their bitterest rival? It was clearly a mistake from Portugal in Euro 2008 to allow Big Phil Scolari to sign for Chelsea mid tournament and if Chelsea’s latest manager hunt lead them to Gareth Southgate would England fans want him sticking around?
At least Spain’s manager crisis as given us an actual news story to discuss having previously seen endless reporting of teams arriving at various Russian Airports and the sensational news that before he could start England’s training Gareth Southgate was presented with a ceremonial Salt Cake by the townsfolk of Repino!
As all and sundry are making their World Cup predictions here are mine:
World Champions- France
Golden Boot winner- Harry Kane
England result: Quarter-Finalists
Russia result: Group Stage exit
Surprise Package: Senegal
Breakout Star: Marco Asensio
Player of the tournament: CR7
I’ll expand on this more as the first round unfolds.
Today’s Game: Russia vs Saudi Arabia
Not exactly the dream opening match of a World Cup but rarely has a host nation been under such pressure to win the curtain raiser. Russia have had 8 year to prepare and yet have never looked like putting a good side together, they were awful at Euro 2016 and the Confederations Cup saw only marginal improvement.
Saudi Arabia qualified impressively from an admittedly simple Asian qualifying section but are almost entirely home based. Although they showed they can compete with top European sides in their warm up games they aren’t expected to progress.
With Uruguay & Egypt in the same group Russia must win to get their own party started, whilst they’re not in good form they do have a couple of potential match winners in Alan Dzagoev & Aleksandr Golovin and I think they’ll be the difference tonight.
Prediction: Russia 1-0 Saudi Arabia