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JOHANNESBURG - The 2018 Fifa World Cup will kick off in Russia on Thursday when hosts Russia take on Saudi Arabia. Throughout the tournament, EWN will be bringing you coverage of which players have the potential to light up the World Cup.

Russia go into the game as favourites having strong representation in Europe whilst Saudi Arabia had a strong run-in during qualification.

RUSSIA V SAUDI ARABIA

Russia’s Key Players:

Igor Akinfeev (Goalkeeper)
The 32-year-old helped CSKA Moscow to a Europa League quarterfinal where they were beaten by Arsenal. Akinfeev was a key figure in the defensive line, keeping 15 clean sheets in his 28 league appearances. His leadership will help keep the defensive line strong against a hungry Saudi Arabian attack.

Fredor Smolov (Striker)
Fredor Smolov scored 40 goals in his last two seasons for FK Krosnador, netting 22 goals in the 2017/2018 season and scoring 18 in the 2016/2017 season. Injuries may be a worry for the 28-year-old as he missed eight games due a hamstring injury at the beginning of the season.

If Russia can maintain decent performances at both ends of the field, they have a realistic chance of qualifying for the next round.

Saudi Arabia’s Key Players:

Mohammed al-Sahwali (Striker)
Saudi Arabia’s striker was in great form, scoring 16 goals in their World Cup qualifying campaign. Al-Sahwali’s good form for his country will need to continue come 14 June in Moscow. The 31-year-old scored 10 goals in his 19 league appearances, despite missing seven league games, including the last three games of the season.

Fahad al-Muwallad (Winger)
Despite spending the second half of the league season at Spanish side Levante, the 23-year-old found first team opportunities hard to come by. Al-Muwallad made just 13 appearances this season but training under different conditions, in a league that has more resources, may allow the Green Falcons a chance at the surprise goal.

Following their 2006 campaign, which included an 8-0 loss to hosts Germany, Saudi Arabia may have a chance at the odd goal to surprise the Russians.

Ahmed’s prediction: Russia 2-0 Saudi Arabia

This article first appeared on EWN : #WorldCup Day 1: What to look out for

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