The World Cup 2018 gets underway on Thursday, June 14 and only one team, host nation Russia, will enjoy home advantage. Like all of the other 31 competing countries, they are guaranteed to play a minimum of three matches in their group, with the winners and runners-up advancing to the knockout phase. Russia get to play in at least three different stadiums, so let’s learn more about the arenas in which expectant home crowds will gather to witness the hosts beginning their tilt at World Cup glory.
1. Luzhniki Stadium
The national stadium in Moscow has already hosted two high-profile sporting events in the last decade. Russia’s capital city was taken over by fans of Premier League pair Chelsea and Manchester United when these two top English clubs contested the Champions League final in 2008.
There was high drama in the middle of the night local time as Blues captain John Terry made a costly slip taking his spot-kick during a penalty shootout after 90 minutes and extra time couldn’t separate the Stamford Bridge side from the Red Devils. United lifted the European Cup giving legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson a second Champions League success.
More recently, the Luzhniki Stadium hosted the 2013 IAAF World Athletics Championships where the best track and field competitors battled for major medals. This sporting arena has since been renovated and a capacity crowd of around 81,000 should pack into it to watch the World Cup curtain-raiser.
Russia take on Saudi Arabia at 6pm Moscow time and, given the huge home support expected, they are odds-on betting favourites to get their campaign off to victory. Their Middle Eastern opposition, meanwhile, are huge outsiders with double-figure prices available for an upset and an opening game draw is around a 4/1 chance.
It’d be no surprise to see a Russia win among WC 2018 predictions and tips, though sterner tests in other stadiums follow in Group A. The Luzhniki will also play host to three other group stage games and as many knockout phase matches, including the World Cup final on Sunday, July 15.
2. Krestovsky Stadium
St Petersburg is home to one of the Russian Premier League’s top sides, Zenit. Their new arena, complete with retractable roof, finally opened in 2017 and is estimated to have cost over $1 billion to build.
The capacity of the Krestovsky Stadium is to be increased for the World Cup finals from about 56,000 to between 67,000 and 68,000. Veteran left-sided player Yuri Zhirkov is one of Russia’s Zenit contingent expected to turn out at his club’s home ground on international duty when the tournament hosts play Egypt on Tuesday, June 19.
While Russia are also odds-on to triumph over the Pharaohs, the African nation have Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah – prolific for both club and country – in their ranks. It might pay to bet against the host nation here with Egypt bigger than 3/1 with some bookmakers to win.
The Krestovsky Stadium like the Luzhniki is the site of three other WC 2018 group stage games, and as many knockout phase matches. A last-16 match, semi-final and third place play-off are all scheduled to take place in St Petersburg.
3. Cosmos Arena
Samara is the sixth largest city in Russia and located where the river of the same name joins the Volga. The brand-new Cosmos Arena has estimated costs of $320 million and is where FC Krylia Sovetov will play football, while its World Cup capacity is expected to be around 45,000.
Russia round off Group A by battling South American nation Uruguay here on Monday, June 25 again at 6pm local time. Unlike their other matches, however, the hosts aren’t favourites in the betting to win and that’s because the opposition have not one, but two, star strikers.
Luis Suarez leads the attack of Spanish La Liga giants Barcelona, while Edinson Cavani propelled PSG to yet another French Ligue 1 title. In the face of Uruguay’s strikeforce, the smart money will be to bet against Russia here.
As in the Luzhniki and St Petersburg, three more WC 2018 group games also grace Samara. They’ll be just two knockout phase matches, though, including one of the quarter-finals.