Saudis raring to go in opener

We are ready, we are not afraid — Pizzi


MOSCOW — 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."

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

"The mood is good. We're about to reach the level we had planned. We've become way more fresh," coach Cherchesov told a news conference 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.

"This is a special event for any country in this position that will stay in the memory for many years to come."

Opening ceremony

British Rock Music star Robbie Williams will headline the opening ceremony along with Russian soprano Aida Garifullina. The duo is followed by legendary Spanish Tenor and Opera Icon Placido Domingo followed up by his fellow opera singer and Peruvian Tenor, Juan Diego Florez.

The opening ceremony in previous tournaments usually kicked off an hour earlier to game time but this year, the event has been scheduled to start 30 minutes before kickoff.

The ceremony will see a fusion of different genres as Robbie Williams will perform some of his greatest musical hits which will then be carried on with some classical music from the world of Opera as fans from all over the world get an opportunity to celebrate the glory of the World Cup.

Williams was ecstatic on being named as the lead for the ceremony and said, “I’m so happy and excited to be going back to Russia for such a unique performance. I’ve done a lot in my career, and opening the FIFA World Cup to 80,000 football fans in the stadium and many millions all over the world is a boyhood dream."

Two-time World Cup Winner, Ronaldo will also be present for the curtain raiser and said, "The opening match is always a very symbolic one — it is that instant when you realize that the big moment you, as a player or fan, have been waiting for four years has finally arrived." — Agencies