Russia striker Fyodor Smolov believes hosting the World Cup will provide an important legacy for the country’s future generations.
Their holding of the tournament has not been without controversy for a number of reasons – not least on the eve of the finals when one of the favourites, Spain, sacked manager Julen Lopetegui.
But when Russia get things under way against Saudi Arabia on Thursday in the Luzhniki Stadium, Smolov admits all that matters for the host nation is immediate success, although the wider picture also has to be taken into consideration.
“This is a special event for any country in this position that will stay in the memory for many years to come,” he told fifa.com.
“All the stadia and infrastructure that have been built for the World Cup will be the legacy of the tournament and help us to develop new generations, teach kids how to play football and improve the sport in our country.
“Your first game is the most important – you start the tournament as you mean to go on.
“We’ve only got three games in the group stage. There is no time to make any plans, we just have to give it 100 per cent from the first minute of the first match and get the best possible result.”
A good start is vital for Russia, who are looking for their first World Cup victory since their opening match of the 2002 tournament against Tunisia.
The omens have not been good in the build-up as Russia have failed to win in seven non-competitive attempts since beating South Korea in October.
“We understand that tomorrow will be the biggest event of our lives. The lives of every Russian, probably,” said Spartak Moscow midfielder Aleksandr Samedov.
“No matter what, we have to get out of the group. We must win our first game, then our second and not leave everything to the last minute.
“I’ve been at three major tournaments before and every time it’s always gone down to the third match for us.
“Now we have to do everything so it doesn’t come to this.
“We’ve learned about Saudi Arabia, we know that they like to keep the ball and are a technical team.
“We’ve got our plan for how to succeed against them.”
Saudi Arabia’s long wait for a World Cup win stretches back to 1994, although they have not qualified since 2006 and they come into the tournament having lost friendlies to Italy, Peru and holders Germany.
“We are happy to be a part of the opening of the most important event in the world,” captain Osama Hawsawi told a press conference.
“In friendly matches we have shown a high level, with the match against Germany (a 2-1 defeat last Friday) evidence to that, and the Saudi team is a strong competitor in Asia.
“Our ambition is to qualify for the later rounds.”
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