World Cup 2018: Saudi Arabia vs. Russia odds, expert picks, predictions

The 2018 World Cup kicks off Thursday when host Russia faces Saudi Arabia at Luzhniki Stadium at 11:00 a.m. ET. Russia enters the match as a -230 money-line favorite, meaning it would take a $230 bet to win $100, while the over-under for total goals scored sits at 2. Before you wager on the opening match of the 2018 World cup, you need to see who football expert Thomas Rongen is backing.

He's the former assistant coach and chief international scout for the U.S. men's national teams and was the former head coach of the U.S. men's Under-20 team. He also was named MLS coach of the year in 1996 for the Tampa Bay Mutiny.

Rongen has broken down every World Cup roster and locked in his pick at SportsLine for Russia vs. Saudi Arabia. Rongen has identified the X-factor that will determine the outcome based on his inside knowledge of these players and coaches.

The match will start following an opening extravaganza at the host stadium that is expected to include approximately 500 performers, including gymnasts and dancers. International pop star Robbie Williams will perform alongside rising Russian artist Aida Garifullina.

Then, the focus will turn to the pitch. Rongen knows both clubs have faced adversity in preparations for the 2018 World Cup, but they have their sights set on a hope-inspiring victory.

Russia enters Thursday's 2018 World Cup opening match as the lowest-ranked of the 32 teams in the tournament. They've failed to advance past the group stage of any tournament since 2008.

Russia's last victory came against South Korea (4-2) in an international friendly in 2017. Since then, they've gone five straight games without a victory. The Russians are hoping the excitement and backing of their supporters can propel them to victory against Saudi Arabia on home soil. And if they fail to win, their path to victory in the World Cup 2018 will be difficult.

Rongen also knows Saudi Arabia has fired two coaches since qualifying for the FIFA World Cup 2018. Juan Antonio Pizzi was recently named to lead the team, whose second-round exit in 1994 is its best finish. Pizzi takes over after failing to get Chile to the World Cup through the qualifying stage.

So will Russia christen the World Cup with a victory before its home crowd, or will Saudi Arabia spoil the party? Visit SportsLine now to see Thomas Rongen's exclusive Russia vs Saudi Arabia pick, all from the Dutch-American soccer coach who served as chief international scout for the U.S. men's national team.

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