June 14: Vs Saudi Arabia, 8:30 PM IST (Moscow)
June 19: Vs Egypt, 11:30 PM IST (St Petersburg)
June 25: Vs Uruguay, 7:30 PM IST (Samara)
FIFA ranking: 70
Previous World Cup: Knocked out of the group stage
Best Finish: Semi-final, 1966
Star players: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow), Alan Dzagoev (CSKA Moscow), Fedor Smolov (Krasnodar).
Coach: Stanislav Cherchesov
A former USSR and Russia international goalkeeper who was selected for the national squads at the 1994 and 2002 FIFA World Cups, Cherchesov was appointed the coach in 2016. The former Dynamo Moscow and Legia Warsaw boss led the hosts at the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup.
Automatic qualification for Russia:
Being the host country, Sbornayas qualified for the FIFA World Cup 2018 automatically and were not required to play the qualifiers. However, their recent international performance hasn't been good. After beating New Zealand 2-0 in the 2017 Confederations Cup at home, Russian side went on losing their remaining group stage games to Portugal and Mexico.
Hosts rely upon stars for a memorable tournament:
Russia would have no dearth of support for they'll be playing at home hence their star players Igor Akinfeev - a six-time Russian title winner, and rest will receive the loudest of cheers whenever they'll step out into the field. Akinfeev has over 100 caps for his country and will be leading the national team. The goalkeeper owns a reputation of a skilful and agile custodian. Team and fans would hope for no less than an inspirational effort from the skipper.
The troika of Alan Dzagoev, Aleksandr Golovin and Fedor Smolov are capable of shocking the opposition defence on their day with their striking skills. However, poor defence has been a matter of concern for coach Cherchesov, who is working very hard to fine-tune the balance between defence and attack.
Do the hosts, the worst-ranked team in the tournament, actually have a chance?
Since Euro 2016, Russia have played 19 games and lost 13 of them. The six wins they secured in this period came against Ghana, Romania, Hungary, New Zealand, Dinamo Moscow and the Korea Republic. Since October last year, they haven't won a single game and conceded 10 goals in four friendlies.
Пока Кубок мира разрешено трогать только в перчатках 🤲🏆 pic.twitter.com/kFdLMtAU8N— Сборная России (@TeamRussia) June 10, 2018
The hosts, however, have a good chance of making it to the round of 16 as they are placed in a slightly easy group. With Uruguay being the only team looking certain to make it to the knock out stages, a spirited show and swelling home support against Saudi Arabia and Egypt might ensure the hosts get a qualification to the next round.
Russia face Saudi Arabia in the inaugural match on June 14 at Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow and if Igor Akinfeev and his teammates live up to the crowd's expectation then they'll have to manage one more win from their remaining two games.
Egypt are also making a comeback after a big gap and if their star player Mohamed Salah fails to get fit on time, then Russia would find it easier to get past them in the absence of the Liverpool striker.
Wins in the first two games would secure the hosts a berth in the second round and the tie against a tough opponent in Uruguay will render inconsequential for them. But if they fail to win any of the first two games, then the road to top 16 will be very tough for Sbornayas.
Prediction: Russia won't be able to make it to the round of 16 as Uruguay and Egypt seem favourites to qualify from this group. If Russia luckily manages to enter knock out stages, they'll face the likes of Spain, Portugal and Iran.