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2018 World Cup: Will Russia Make the Most of Home Field Advantage?

Russian National Team
The host nation Russia will be hoping to take advantage of a weaker grouping to advance to the Knockout Stages of the World Cup. Photo by: Дмитрий Садовников (Wiki Commons) [CC License]
  • Will hosting the World Cup give Russia an advantage?
  • How has Russia looked in the lead up to the tournament?
  • We have the best bets for Russia in the World Cup

The second lowest ranked nation participating in this year’s World Cup will also be the host nation. Russia is 66th in FIFA World Rankings, only above their fellow Group A opponents Saudi Arabia who rank 67th. The tournament will be spread out across 12 stadiums in the cities of Kaliningrad, Kazan, Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, Rostov-on-Don, St. Petersburg, Samara, Saransk, Sochi, Volgograd, and Yekaterinburg.

Russia’s Group Schedule

Date Opponent
June 14 Saudi Arabia
June 19 Egypt
June 25 Uruguay

Having home field throughout the tournament would be an advantage to any nation. For Russia, who’ve selected a roster that almost exclusively plays their club soccer domestically, it’s essential.

Only two players on Russia’s squad play their domestic soccer outside of the Russian Premier League.

Of their 23-man roster, the only players who don’t play in the Russian Premier League are Villarreal’s Denis Cheryshev and Club Brugge’s Vladimir Gabulov. For the rest, their surroundings will be very familiar.

Get To Know Your Host Nation’s Roster

Goalkeepers: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow), Vladimir Gabulov (Club Brugge), Andrey Lunev (Zenit St. Petersburg).

Defenders: Vladimir Granat & Fedor Kudryashov (Rubin Kazan), Ilya Kutepov (Spartak Moscow), Andrey Semenov (Akhmat Grozny), Sergei Ignashevich & Mario Fernandes (CSKA Moscow), Igor Smolnikov (Zenit St. Petersburg).

Midfielders: Yuri Gazinskiy (Krasnodar), Alexsandr Golovin & Alan Dzagoev (CSKA Moscow), Aleksandr Erokhin, Yuri Zhirkov & Daler Kuzyaev (Zenit St. Petersburg), Roman Zobnin & Alexsandr Samedov (Spartak Moscow), Anton Miranchuk (Lokomotiv Moscow), Denis Cheryshev (Villarreal).

Forwards: Artem Dzyuba (Arsenal Tula), Aleksey Miranchuk (Lokomotiv Moscow), Fedor Smolov (Krasnodar).

Aleksandr Golovin
22-year-old playmaker Aleksandr Golovin will be counted on to pull the strings in the midfield for Russia during the World Cup. Photo by: Дмитрий Голубович (Wiki Commons) [CC License]

The History of Hosting Nations

Hosting affords you an automatic pass through the grueling multi-year qualification phase. Historically, this has proven advantageous as only one time has a hosting nation not at least progressed out of the Group Stage. That came back in 2010 when South Africa went 1-1-1 and finished third in their group and didn’t progress.

World Cup Host Nation’s Records

Year Host Nation Result
1930 Uruguay Champions
1934 Italy Champions
1938 France Quarter-Finals
1950 Brazil Finalists
1954 Switzerland Quarter-Finals
1958 Sweden Finalists
1962 Chile Third Place
1966 England Champions
1970 Mexico Quarter-Finals
1974 West Germany Champions
1978 Argentina Champions
1982 Spain Second Round (Final 12)
1986 Mexico Quarter-Finals
1990 Italy Third Place
1994 USA Round of 16
1998 France Champions
2002 South Korea/Japan Semi-Finals (Lost in 3rd place match)/Round of 16
2006 Germany Third Place
2010 South Africa Group Stage
2014 Brazil Semi-Finals (Lost in 3rd place match)
2018 Russia TBD

Of the 20 World Cups that have taken place, the hosting nation has lifted the trophy six times. However, the last such instance was back in 1998 when France won at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis. 1998 was also the first time 32 teams took part in the tournament.

Prior to this, 24 nations participated in the four World Cups earlier. Only 16 teams competed for the title in the 1978 tournament and earlier.

Though there have only been 20 World Cups, 21 nations have hosted as in 2002 South Korea and Japan co-hosted. So if you consider the 21 countries who have had a part in hosting, eight have made it to the final (top two) and 12 have made it to at least the Third Place Match.

Looking at these numbers you may be thinking this bodes well for Russia’s odds in the World Cup as over 50-percent of host nations have progressed deep into the tournament. However dig past the surface and of those six champions five came in 1978 or earlier.

This was during a time when only 16 nations competed and if you look at the names—Uruguay, Italy, England, West Germany, and Argentina, it was more or less a “Who’s Who” of soccer powerhouses.

After France in 1998, the best result for a host nation has been Germany in 2006 who won the Third Place Match.

After France in 1998, the best result for a host nation has been Germany in 2006 who won the Third Place Match.

With the sport expanding globally to not only include more teams, but also to grow the sport in some non-traditional major soccer markets, the difficulty level for some host nations has been increasing.

South Africa was a great example of this, the 66th ranked Russians could have similar struggles and going forward Qatar in 2022 could be in over their heads.

How Will Russia Fare in the World Cup?

Group A sees Russia kick off the tournament on June 14th against Saudi Arabia. Having received a bye into the World Cup, the Russians have not had a real competitive match since last summer’s Confederations Cup.

Since that time they have only competed in friendly matches—and they haven’t gone well. In six international friendlies since the Confederation Cup they’ve gone 1-3-4.

Odds for Russia in the World Cup

Result Bovada Odds
To Win Group A +175
To Qualify from Group A -310
To Reach the Quarter-Final +175
To Reach the Semi-Final +550
To Reach the Final +1400
To Win the World Cup +5000

Having not won a game since October 2017, confidence can’t be high heading into the tournament. The Russians do have some talent amongst their ranks though in striker Smolov.

Smolov was the second leading scorer in the Russian League with 14 goals this past season. He was also the league’s top scorer the past two seasons with 18 goals in 2016-17 and 20 in 2015-16.

Markov was eighth overall this year with nine goals and each of Erokhin, Dzyuba and Aleksey Miranchuk were among the leaders with seven. Midfielder Golovin provides the creative spark in midfield while adding five goals as well.

Russia will be without a few key contributors as their backline has been hit hard with injuries. Two key central defenders in Victor Vasin and Georgi Dzhikiya went down with serious knee injuries earlier this year. They’ll also be missing ten-goal scorer Aleksandr Kokorin, who has an injury of his own.

If Russia hopes to qualify it very well could come down to the result of their second game on June 19th against Egypt. The Egyptians rank 46th in the world and won Group E of CAF Qualification. Egypt’s roster is headlined by Liverpool’s Golden Boot winner Mohamed Salah who scored 44 goals across all competitions for the club this season.

He will no doubt be the focal point of the Pharaoh’s attack in this tournament. Salah’s recent shoulder injury during the Champions League final, leaves his status for the World Cup uncertain.

Salah scored 44 goals for Liverpool but suffered a shoulder injury last month in the Champions League Final.

As for the rest of the group, Saudi Arabia reached the tournament through a second-place finish in Group B of the Asian Qualifiers. The Saudis were undefeated at home but only 2-0-3 on their travels.

Uruguay are clearly the class of this group and finished second in CONMEBOL only to Brazil. La Celeste features such names as Luis Suárez (Barcelona), Edison Cavani (PSG), and Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid). It would be a colossal failure for Uruguay to not claim top spot in this Group.

Betting Advice

This is certainly not one of the stronger teams in the tournament. However, it is a team with some talent and who will be playing on home soil. They’ll also line up against a relatively easy schedule.

If you assume Uruguay takes first place in the group and the Saudis fourth, that comes down to who will finish second between Russia and Egypt. With the uncertainly around Salah’s injury, I’m tipping the Russians to progress as the second place team in Group A.

This would line them up for a quick exit in the Round of 16 against likely either Spain or Portugal. If Salah reaches full fitness in time for the tournament though, Eqypt stands a strong chance of advancing.

With Russia only paying -310 at Bovada to advance, predicting their total team points in the Group Stage may present better value. Below are some interesting bets involving both Russia and Egypt.

Group A Russia & Egypt Bets

Result Bovada Odds
Russia Group Points = 4 +300
Russia Group Points = 5 +650
Russia Group Points = 6 +300
Russia to finish 3rd in Group +400
Russia Not to Advance from Group +230
Egypt to Advance from Group +150
Egypt to finish 2nd in Group +275
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