Russia-Saudi Arabia Preview and Live Blogging, Part I
I watched Saudi Arabia a few days ago, in a video of a friendly with Belgium, and they were just entirely outclassed, with a goalie who fumbled nearly everything he could get his hands on. They were not especially fit and looked as if they might completely fall apart if things began to go poorly. They looked a bit better against a not terribly inspired Germany a few nights ago, with a bit of speed that could catch a Russian backline lacking in pace, but it was pretty sketchy. After firing two coaches recently, they've settled on Juan Antonio Pizzi, a high octane guy. Given the fitness issues, I'm not sure this is going to work out well, but I'm guessing the pay is ridiculous. Sports Illustrated wrote: "There are also huge doubts about the match fitness of some of their key players. In January, a deal was struck between the Saudi Arabian Sports Authority and La Liga in Spain, which saw nine Saudi players move to Spanish teams on loan, in a bid to gain global exposure and allow the players to gain a better tactical insight into different styles of football. Unfortunately, the Saudi players were deemed to be far below the required standard for their Spanish host clubs, meaning the majority of the players have barely played competitive football since January." This could get really ugly really fast.
Except they're playing Russia, and if I were known to rig a few things, like your own elections and a few others, Olympic doping tests, and the like, I'd be hot to draw Saudi Arabia for a Monarch v. Autocrat Oil Bowl smackdown. It is a land where Falconing is the national sport, after all. Given the Crown Prince's recent Putin-like shakedown of his own oligarchs, you'd think they'd have a friendly time out on the pitch, League of Injustice and all.
Russia hasn't won since June and is the current lowest-ranking team in the world that's in the competition. They are generally slow but without the steady keeper that might match the aging profile. Hopes ride on the striker Smolov, perhaps, but the show-stealer will be Aleksandr Golovin, a silky, deceptive player who can stop on a dime and operate in tight quarters. Arsenal and Chelsea have been nipped by Juventus, word has it, for the services of the 22-year old for 25 million Euros, assuming they'll still be accepting those by this fall in Italy. Premier League fans will remember the steady professional Yury Zhirkov, who should add a cool head and strong left-foot to the side.
I'm guessing the Russians go dancing in the streets after a 3-0 win and dreaming of making it out of the group.