Igor Akinfeev will have a key role to play in Russia's World Cup opener. (Photo by Mike Kireev/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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Let the games begin. As part of its detailed coverage of the 2018 World Cup Finals, The Roar has assembled a panel of experts to offer their thoughts and tips on each night of action. In this first piece, the panel also offer their broader views on the tournament as a whole.

As a member of the Roar of the crowd, you too have the chance to tip. By completing the form below, your World Cup voice will be heard.

The panel consists of Mike Tuckerman, Daniel Jeffrey, Tim Palmer, Paul Nicholls and yours truly.

Each morning, we’ll have an article previewing the upcoming matches and containing a tipping sheet for you to complete. To throw a little competition into the mix, a tipping leaderboard will also feature, although my impending and decisive victory might make it redundant quite early in the tournament!

Here’s how the experts see the first night of action.

Stuart Thomas

Saudi Arabia
Despite so many seeing the opening clash of the tournament as a non-event, I am calling it as one of the biggest games in the history of Saudi football. In the weakest group of the eight, the Saudis stand a real chance to progress with a result against the home side. A win here gets their World Cup off to a dynamic start.

Champions: Germany are my tip to hold the trophy aloft on July 16, becoming only the second team in history to win the title in consecutive tournaments.

Runners-up: Belgium will be the fairytale story of the Cup and fall just short of taking the slipper, the Prince and the title.

Golden Ball winner: Harry Kane will lead the English to the semi-finals and impress the planet with both his goalscoring and leadership.

Golden Boot winner: Kane will have this wrapped up by the Round of 16.

Socceroos verdict: The French will crumble, the Danes will top the group and the Aussies will knock off the Peruvians for the second qualifying spot. I hope!

Mile Jedinak Aaron Mooy Socceroos Australia

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Mike Tuckerman

Draw
Hosts Russia have an entire nation behind them, but will the passion from the stands be enough to get them over the line against the Saudis? I suspect not. These are two fairly pedestrian sides and both will be eager to avoid defeat, meaning the tournament opener could finish locked at 1-1.

Champions: Germany. They possess enough quality to become the first back-to-back World Cup winners since Brazil in 1962.

Runners-up: Brazil. Can Neymar drag them all the way to the final? He’s the man to do it.

Golden Ball winner: Neymar. FIFA look like they are once again in the mood to dole it out to a big name.

Golden Boot winner: Edinson Cavani. Hardly the most accurate of finishers, but he could run riot in the group stage.

Socceroos verdict: Round of 16. Hope springs eternal!

Brazil's Neymar celebrates after scoring

(AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Daniel Jeffrey

Russia
In what is surely the least enticing opening fixture in World Cup history, Russia should fancy themselves to get the job done over the Saudis. That’s partly due to home-ground advantage, which should be significant, and while Australian fans will have learnt not to underestimate Saudi Arabia, the hosts’ squad has a little more class than their opponents tonight.

Champions: Brazil. They’ve been bitterly disappointing since 2002, but the Selecao look tremendously dangerous this time around. I can’t see anyone else managing to out-score a team containing Neymar, Philippe Coutinho, and Gabriel Jesus, and I like the steel Casemiro gives them in front of the back four.

Runners-up: Germany. Assuming both Brazil and Germany top their groups, they’ll find themselves on the opposite side of the draw, which sets us up for a repeat of the 2002 decider. Die Mannschaft are a good bet to win it all, but I’m slightly concerned about their striking stocks.

Golden Ball winner: Philippe Coutinho. A bit left-field, but Coutinho is such a special talent. He’ll be the one unlocking defences for Neymar and Gabriel Jesus to capitalise on, and he has a goal or two in him as well.

Golden Boot winner: Romelu Lukaku. Belgium have a gifted group of attacking players, and Lukaku should feast on the service provided by the likes of Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard, particularly in the group stage.

Socceroos verdict: Quarter-finals. I’ll go out on a limb and say that, after Argentina stumble in their group, we sneak past Nigeria in the round of 16 before getting put to the sword in a quarter-final against Spain. Bit of optimism never hurts, right?

Romelu Lukaku Football Belgium Euro 2016

(AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

Tim Palmer

Draw
Everyone is always super hyped for the start of a World Cup, but these are two limited teams who will play out a very cagey 1-1 draw.

Champions: Spain. We have forgotten too quickly just how good Spain can be, and how good they were in the process of winning two European Championships and the 2010 World Cup. They have unbelievably good players, a coach who knows how to bring their possession-based style to life and lets the star players, like Isco and Thiago, shine. Spain also have the best defence and the best goalkeeper, which helps.

Runners-up: Brazil have all the ingredients to make up for the ignominy of the famous 7-1 thrashing. They have a very well-rounded squad and again, a coach who has not done anything extravagant but has created a system which suits his best players.

Golden Ball winner: If Spain do win it, then they will have the best player as well. It could very well be David De Gea, but I like to think they’ll be most effective going forward, with Isco the creative hub. I can see Isco taking over the Iniesta mantle, perhaps with a decisive moment of inspiration in the knockout stages.

Golden Boot winner: Timo Werner has a ludicrously good set of attacking players behind him, is a fine finisher and will absolutely obliterate some poor defence with his pace at some point in this World Cup.

Socceroos verdict: I want to be optimistic and say the Round of 16, after a gutsy draw against Denmark and a fine, last-gasp win over Peru. But if we do qualify, it’ll be because of a moment of sheer genius, or riding our luck, not because we’ve consistently dominated or nullified any team.

Spain's Isco celebrates.

(Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images)

Paul Nicholls

Russia
I feel there is too much at stake for Russia to lose this game. Lots of people, from Gianni Infantino to Vladimir Putin, would be ticked off if the home team didn’t get up. Russia to win 2-0.

Champions: France. They have so many stars and they seem surprisingly close-knit this time around. Provided they don’t implode, they can do it.

Runners-up: Germany. Die Mannschaft should have a good run through to the final and I expect them to be runners-up.

Golden Ball winner: Staying with the French theme I’ll stick my neck out and go for Paul Pogba. If France are going to win it, Pogba will need to be at his best. It’s time for the Manchester United ace to step up.

Golden Boot winner: Neymar. Brazil should go deep in this tournament and Neymar will be the man banging in most of their goals.

Socceroos verdict: Round of 16. Australia can edge out Denmark and Peru for second position in the group. This would likely give them a round of 16 tie against Argentina, which I couldn’t see them getting past.

Day 1 Stuart Mike Daniel Tim Paul The Crowd
RUS vs KSA Saudi Arabia Draw Russia Draw Russia ?
Champions Germany Germany Brazil Spain France ?
Runners-up Belgium Brazil Germany Brazil Germany ?
Golden Ball Harry Kane Neymar Philippe Coutinho Isco Paul Pogba ?
Golden Boot Harry Kane Edinson Cavani Romelu Lukaku Timo Werner Neymar ?
Socceroos Round of 16 Round of 16 Quarter-finals Round of 16 Round of 16 ?

Tonight’s odds

Russia head into tonight’s clash as heavy favourites, coming in at $1.40 to Saudi Arabia’s $9. The draw is paying $4.20.

Match 1
Russia Draw Saudi Arabia
$1.40 $4.20 $9

Odds via Pointsbet are correct as of 1:45pm (AEST) Wednesday, June 13.

If you want the best odds on every World Cup game (including all Socceroos matches), PointsBet is the place to bet. With Elite Odds every WC game and our Failed 3+ Leg Multi Promo, PointsBet is the best place to get your World Cup betting fix. Find out more here.

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The Crowd Says (38)

  • June 14th 2018 @ 8:09am
    MQ said | June 14th 2018 @ 8:09am | ! Report

    The WC opener is always highly anticipated, no different this time, even if two non-descript sides are playing.

    Most of the Russians play in their national league, which theoretically, should be enough to see off the Saudis, who have a deplorable WC record, I don’t expect that to change this time round.

    Don’t be surprised to see the Russians get a bit of a home-ground advantage in one guise or another.

    Hard to look past Germany to win consecutive WCs.

    • June 14th 2018 @ 9:00am
      Kris said | June 14th 2018 @ 9:00am | ! Report

      The two lowest ranked teams in the tournament. Hopefully neither of them can defend and we get a 3-3.

    • June 14th 2018 @ 9:39am
      Fred said | June 14th 2018 @ 9:39am | ! Report

      Yes the Russian Premier League is a strong competition – a few of their teams generally go well in the Champions League.

      I actually think the Russian team will surprise a few people.

      • June 15th 2018 @ 8:07am
        MQ said | June 15th 2018 @ 8:07am | ! Report

        WE called it Fred.

        • June 15th 2018 @ 9:22am
          Fred said | June 15th 2018 @ 9:22am | ! Report

          And Artem with the third goal!

          • June 15th 2018 @ 10:11am
            MQ said | June 15th 2018 @ 10:11am | ! Report

            Ha ha – that was my highlight! Absolutely loved it!

  • Roar Rookie

    June 14th 2018 @ 8:26am
    Waz said | June 14th 2018 @ 8:26am | ! Report

    Draw. Neither side are very good.

    Champions. France.

    Runners-up: Spain or Portugal. Can’t decide.

    Golden Ball winner: Harry Kane.

    Golden Boot winner: Harry Kane. He’ll have this sown up in the group stage.

    Socceroos verdict: Quarter Finals. (Yes I’m dreaming).

  • Roar Guru

    June 14th 2018 @ 8:53am
    AdelaideDocker said | June 14th 2018 @ 8:53am | ! Report

    Saudi Arabia to surprise with a narrow win, and allow the biggest controversy to reverberate around Russia since the Bolshevik revolution revolution.

    The Deutsch will win, in a fiercely contested final against the French. It’ll be the biggest schism between the pair since the Treaty of Versailles .. but this time the Germans will be the beneficiaries.

    No idea on Golden Ball/Golden Boot.

    Socceroos to progress to Round of 16.

    • Roar Guru

      June 14th 2018 @ 9:20am
      TomC said | June 14th 2018 @ 9:20am | ! Report

      The beginning of the Second World War is generally regarded as another low point in Germany-France relations.

      • Roar Guru

        June 14th 2018 @ 9:38am
        AdelaideDocker said | June 14th 2018 @ 9:38am | ! Report

        Yuuup, that’s probably the better example. I was doing some reading on the Treaty last night so it was still in my mind.

        • June 14th 2018 @ 10:53am
          Brian said | June 14th 2018 @ 10:53am | ! Report

          Don’t forget Schumacher in 1982

          • June 15th 2018 @ 10:13am
            MQ said | June 15th 2018 @ 10:13am | ! Report

            WE shall never forget.

    • Roar Rookie

      June 14th 2018 @ 9:49am
      The Phantom Commissioner said | June 14th 2018 @ 9:49am | ! Report

      A Saudi win would not surprise me in the slightest, Russia were absolute pants at the Euros and are only competing because they are hosts. The Russians of course will have home advantage but will they cope with the pressure?

  • June 14th 2018 @ 9:00am
    TK said | June 14th 2018 @ 9:00am | ! Report

    Spain have sacked their coach with just enough time for a replacement. Good for a stable environment on the eve of the tourney. Saudis at $9 that’s good odds..putin will be all over that. Bugger what we think .What does Achilles the feline replacement for Paul the octopus have to say? Why isn’t Achilles on the Roar panel of experts?

  • June 14th 2018 @ 9:05am
    TK said | June 14th 2018 @ 9:05am | ! Report

    Achillies is tipping Russia.

  • June 14th 2018 @ 9:09am
    Kris said | June 14th 2018 @ 9:09am | ! Report

    I have QTRs as

    Spain v France
    Brazil v Belgium
    England v Germany
    Argentina v Portugal

    After that, not a clue 🙂

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