The World Cup features plenty of betting opportunities – so don't miss out. Our daily Russia 2018 Free Kick looks at the best ways to wager on Thursday and Friday's games, highlighting our favorite picks for sides, totals, props and alternative odds.
Home Sweet Home
The host team has almost always kicked off the World Cup festivities with a splash - and Russia should be no different, as it opens competition against lowly Saudi Arabia. The home side has never lost its opening match in the history of the tournament, with the average margin of victory coming in at close to two goals.
The Russian side isn't nearly as prolific as some of the powerhouse teams in the World Cup, but is more than capable of humbling a Saudi Arabian side that would need an absolute miracle to advance to the Round of 16. Moreover, it's critical that Russia get off to a strong start in order to appease a demanding fan base – led by President Vladimir Putin, of all people.
Playing such a heavy favorite requires a little craftiness in order to make a tidy profit without investing too much of your bankroll at one time. You certainly have plenty of options here since it's likely that the Russians will win by multiple goals - but how bad could this rout be? Look for the Russians to exert their dominance over their opening-round opponent and win this one running away.
Top Play: Russia 3-goal winning margin (+550 on Bet365)
Count on Cavani
Uruguay hasn't won a World Cup championship in 68 years - and while the diminutive South American nation isn't among the contenders in Russia, it will certainly hold its own in the goal-scoring department. Boasting two of the world's top offensive threats in Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, the Uruguayans are a strong bet to reach the Round of 16.
Yet, while Suarez gets plenty of attention – and rightfully so – it is Cavani whom bettors should target in Uruguay's opening-round match with an Egyptian side that should struggle to contain him. Cavani actually trails his compatriot in total international goals (51-42) while playing more matches (100-98), but erupted for a tourney-best 10 goals in World Cup qualifying.
The Egyptians are expected to play an up-tempo style – led by banged-up superstar Mohamed Salah – to try and keep up with the high-powered Uruguay side. And that should open things up nicely for Cavani, who is playing the best football of his career and will be lethal on the counter-attack – so don't be afraid to go all the way in on him.
Top Play: Edinson Cavani 2 or more goals (+600 on Bet365)
Don't let that World Cup qualifying result fool you: Morocco will need to punch well above its weight if it hopes to earn more than three points at this year's tournament. With both Spain and Portugal drawn into Group B, the Moroccans will be putting all of their focus into their opener against Iran – and goals could be difficult to come by in this one.
Morocco was sensational defensively in qualifying, rolling through the double-round-robin without allowing a single goal. But when you consider the opposition – Ivory Coast, Gabon and Mali – that shouldn't come as much of a surprise. And it's worth noting that Morocco was held to a scoreless draw in three of its six matches - one against each of its three opponents.
Iran wasn't much more prolific – it scored just 10 goals in 10 World Cup qualifying matches, and was held goalless three times – but was nearly as impressive at the defensive end, allowing just two scores over that span. This game has a high likelihood of producing zero offense, so act accordingly – after all, what's more fun than rooting for neither team to score?
Top Play: Under 0.5 goals (+450 on Bet365)
It's a battle between two top-10 teams in the FIFA World Rankings as Spain and Portugal do battle in Sochi this Friday. As one of the marquee matchups of group play, plenty of eyes will be on both sides – but while the Spanish side has shown solid form entering the tournament, the Portuguese have not looked good; they come into this one as heavy underdogs at +375.
It isn't often you see a team ranked fourth in the world facing such long odds – especially when you consider that Portugal employs one of the three greatest players in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo. But the Portuguese side was throttled by the Netherlands in a March friendly, then scuffled to draws with Tunisia and Belgium before routing Algeria in its final pre-tourney match.
Those kinds of performances won't fly against the Spaniards, whose 2018 international friendly ledger includes an impressive 1-1 draw with defending-champion Germany and just two goals allowed in their previous three matches. Spain hasn't quite clicked up front, but has enough firepower to get a lead – and should have no trouble keeping it.
Top Play: Teams to score - Spain only (+175 on Bet365)