June 14, 2018 / 2:24 PM / 4 months ago

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

MOSCOW (Reuters) - 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 Thursday’s opening game against Saudi Arabia at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium.

Soccer Football - World Cup - Russia Training- Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, Russia - June 13, 2018 Russia's Fyodor Smolov during training REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

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.

Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Toby Davis

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