Brazil may be the favorites to take home the 2018 FIFA World Cup, according to expert predictions by ESPN, but on Thursday host Russia and lightly-regarded Saudi Arabia square off in a tournament-opening match that will live stream from Moscow to kick off the 20th edition of the world's most-watched sports event.
Stats compiled by WhatCulture.com put the average cumulative television audience for the FIFA World Cup every four years at a staggering 3.5 billion, with the 2014 Final pitting eventual champions Germany against Argentina drawing about 1 billion viewers on its own.
Compare that to the most-watched NFL Super Bowl of the 52 played so far, the 2015 match between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks which drew a paltry-by-comparison 114.4 million viewers, according to CBS.
To find out how to watch a live stream of the Russia vs. Saudi Arabia 2018 FIFA World Cup opener, see the streaming instructions at the bottom of this article. Kickoff for the start of the biggest tournament in world football is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. Moscow Standard Time at the 81,000-seat Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia, on Thursday, June 13. In the United Kingdom, that start time will be 4:00 p.m. British Summer Time, while fans in the United States can log in to the live stream at 11:00 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time, or 8:00 a.m. Pacific.
The opening match of the first World Cup ever played in Russia is not exactly a marquee matchup, as the soccer site Four Four Two points out. Russia is 70th in the world earning the distinction of being the lowest-ranked team in the 2018 tournament. But Saudi Arabia isn't a whole lot better at 67th worldwide.
The Saudi Arabian team, known as The Green Falcons, are hoping to at least equal their 1994 performance when they advanced to the second round of the World Cup, ESPN reports. In what was then their first-ever World Cup appearance, the Saudi side faced the perennial powerhouse Netherlands in the first knockout match and even held a 1-0 lead at the half. But the Dutch bounced back to send the Green Falcons packing, 2-1.
Whether Saudi Arabia can get out of a group that also contains Egypt and Uruguay seems like a long shot, but if they do, they won't have to worry about being eliminated by the Netherlands again. The Oranje will not be making an appearance at the 2018 World Cup, failing to get out of their qualifying round, as The Standard reported.
But as USA Today recounted in a report Tuesday, Netherlands were not the only big-name national side that failed to make it to Russia for the 2018 World Cup. The United States also fizzled in the regional qualifiers, and as a result, will miss their first World Cup since 1986.
The USA's chief World Cup rival, the African team out of Ghana, will not be present in Russia either — after eliminating the United States in two consecutive World Cup competitions, in 2006 and 2010, until the Americans turned the tables with a nail-biting, last-minute goal in the 2014 tournament in Brazil.
European titans Italy — a four-time World Cup winning nation, tying the Azzuri for second all-time with Germany behind five-time champs Brazil — also got dumped in the qualifying stage, as did South American staples Chile and another African powerhouse, Ivory Coast.
Watch a preview of Groups A, B, C and D by the experts at ESPN FC in the video below.