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.
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