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Russia vs. Saudi Arabia: The World Cup Curtain-Raiser We Deserve

Russia vs. Saudi Arabia, 11 a.m. ET Thursday, FOX

  • Russia -227
  • Saudi Arabia +904
  • Draw +343

Bet To Watch: 

Draw +343

Hoo boy.

What a way to start a World Cup. If you’re a fan of conspiracy theories, this is your World Cup Final, because in terms of geopolitical intrigue, this could be the best World Cup match of all time. Seriously, you can’t make it up. It’s like an episode of “Homeland” or something.

Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, are hell-bent on putting on a great event, so much so that the Kremlin powwowed with the top boys of Russia’s most fearsome hooligan armies and told them they best behave (they did not behave at Euro 2016). Not only do the Russians want this thing to go off without a hitch, they want their bad team to perform well. Take it away, Vlad:

“We very much expect — all fans and lovers of football in Russia — expect the team to play with dignity, for them to show modern, interesting football, and to fight until the end.”

Luckily, Russia drew what is likely the softest group in World Cup history, and they will open the show against the worst team in the field. How convenient.

 

While the spectacle of these two nations opening up the biggest sporting event on the planet is awesome on one level, in terms of the actual football, this tilt could be pretty dire — with both teams doing everything they can to avoid a loss.

That is especially true for the hosts, who can’t afford a banana peel with the world — and their fearless leader — watching. The visitors, assuming they haven’t been approached, would surely take a draw into their second match, and I think we will see the Green Falcons set up conservatively, inviting Russia to come at them. That could prove to be a useful strategy, as Sbornaya doesn’t offer much down the road.

I don’t see either team creating many chances, and I think we should expect to see a boring game in which neither team takes any risks. The extenuating circumstances surrounding this match make it a must-watch — the actual teams do not. I’m expecting a horrible match and think there’s value on a draw. I also think there’s value on the Under 2.5 (-155 on 5Dimes).

Follow Michael J. Leboff on Twitter
@TheBigLeebowski
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