The 2017 Confederations Cup kicks off on Saturday – with host nation Russia due to face New Zealand in the opening fixture of the competition.
This tournament represents Russia’s final competitive fixtures before next summer’s World Cup and, with that in mind, Stanislav Cherchesov’s charges will be determined to make a positive impression on home turf.
Russia performed poorly at the European Championships last summer, picking up just one point from their three group games and they crashed out of the competition after suffering a morale-sapping 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Chris Coleman’s Wales.
That humiliating exit led to Leonid Slutsky’s resignation as Russia manager, and it took time for Cherchesov to stamp his authority on the side, for the Sbornaya won just one of the first four matches that the 53-year-old boss oversaw – a sequence of results that included a humiliating 2-1 reverse at the hands of Qatar.
There are signs, though, of a Russian revival - the Sbornaya have lost just one of their last five fixtures and Cherchesov’s men will hope to maintain momentum when they line up against New Zealand in St Petersburg on Saturday.
The host nation are tipped to start the competition on a positive note. Indeed, Betfair Sportsbook offer just 2/7 (1.29) that Cherchesov’s team kick off their campaign with a win, with 4/1 (5.0) that the match ends in stalemate.
New Zealand come into this competition as Oceania champions, but that competition is widely regarded as the weakest of the continental championships, particularly in light of Australia’s move to the Asian confederation in 2006.
As such, Anthony Hudson’s men are considered in many quarters to be rank outsiders ahead of their participation in this tournament and there is 10/1 (11.0) that New Zealand defy the doubters by getting the better of the host nation when these two teams lock horns.
New Zealand suffered a bitterly disappointing 1-0 defeat at the hands of Belarus in their final warm-up fixture and there is just 4/5 (1.80) that Hudson’s team draw another blank against Cherchesov’s side.
Better value, though, may lie in backing the hosts to take all three points from this curtain-raising clash without conceding a goal. New Zealand have failed to find the net in four of their last five defeats and the even money (2.0) quote for Russia to keep a clean sheet on their way to a win in St Petersburg on Saturday could well offer decent value for punters.