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‘Saudis will play without fear’

Russia reaching top level ahead of opener: coach

MOSCOW, June 13, (RTRS): Coach Juan Antonio Pizzi said Saudi Arabia would play without fear on Thursday when they look to become the first team to inflict defeat on a host nation in the opening match of a World Cup.

Warm-up losses to Italy, Germany and Peru have not made for the best preparations for the Saudis as they chase a first victory in the World Cup finals since 1994 in their first appearance in the showpiece event since 2006.

The tournament hosts have had an even less auspicious build-up, however, and Pizzi said they would be looking to take the game to the Russians in the Group A match at the Luzhniki Stadium.

“We are ready, we are not afraid,” the Argentine told a news conference.

“We are planning on being the protagonists and we will try to control (Russia’s) virtues, which are many.

“Our goal is to beat Russia. We want to measure ourselves against the best teams in the world.”

Saudi captain Osama Hawsawi said the warm-up defeats would simply not be relevant when the players took to the field to open “the most important sporting event”.

“I don’t think we should focus on our friendlies,” he said. “What matters is tomorrow’s game, because a World Cup game is very special and we want to give our best and we shall.”

Hawsawi said a good start to the tournament was vital if the Saudis were to match the feat of the 1994 Falcons, who reached the round of 16 in the United States.

“I think we have to do our best and progressing to the next stage is not impossible,” he added.

“There are so many unpredictable things in the World Cup. We are focused on the opening game, that will set the tone for the other games.”

Saudi Arabia also play Uruguay and Egypt in Group A.

A reinvigorated Russian side are hitting top form ahead of their World Cup opener against Saudi Arabia on Thursday, the tournament hosts’ manager Stanislav Cherchesov has said.

Russia have not won an international match since a friendly win over South Korea last October and their pre-World Cup outings have resulted in defeats by France and Austria along with a draw with Turkey.

The slump has led to Russia being the lowest ranked team in the 32-team tournament as they occupy 70th position in the FIFA rankings but Cherchesov believes his side can pose a challenge.

“The mood is good. We’re about to reach the level we had planned. We’ve become way more fresh,” Cherchesov told a news conference on Wednesday.

“We have been studying our opponents from day one. There are no weak teams in any of the groups.” The first game is important as it will set the tone to a certain extent. We are trying to iron out any kinks we have.”

Cherchesov will be out of contract with the national team shortly after the conclusion of the World Cup and the 54-year-old says he would like to continue in his role.

Russia last progressed past the World Cup group stage in 1986, as part of the Soviet Union team. However, striker Fedor Smolov, the top scorer under Cherchesov with seven goals, believes the hosts will be extra motivated to reach the last-16.

“This is a special event for any country in this position that will stay in the memory for many years to come… I’m sure we’ll show what we’re capable of at the World Cup,” Smolov said in an interview with FIFA.

“At this point, the objective is to get out of the group. I hope we achieve this, then afterwards we’ll see.”

Russia winger Aleksandr Samedov echoed his team mates sentiments saying the team must seal their progression to the knockout stage “no matter what.”


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