Russia and Saudi Arabia will kick-off the long-awaited FIFA World Cup 2018 on Thursday, but who are the three players to look out for in the match?

It’s finally here. The FIFA World Cup returns once again after a gap of four years, with Russia the hosts this time. The quadrennial event will kick off with the host nation playing the first match, as they face Saudi Arabia at the Luzhniki Stadium on Thursday in a Group A match.

The match may be pitting the two lowest ranked sides in the tournament, but it should not be short of action. Who are the three players to look out for from the World Cup opener though? The Hard Tackle takes a closer look.

Aleksandr Golovin

The talisman. (Photo courtesy - Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images)

The talisman. (Photo courtesy – Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images)

The poster boy of Russian football at the moment, Golovin has a lot of excitement surrounding him at the club level, with several big-name clubs reportedly scouring to sign him. But, it is at the international scene where Golovin is well and truly set to become a superstar in his own right.

The CSKA Moscow midfielder will sit in the middle of the park in the Russian engine room, Golovin will be looking to pull the strings and dictate the tempo of the game. The 22-year-old is also excellent off the ball, and should impress with his tackling abilities.

But, Golovin will create his main impact on the ball, setting up the front-men with chance after chance while also looking to take aim at goal himself. Who knows, an excellent World Cup debut might just see Manchester United and other clubs might just step up their interest in the youngster.

Mohammad Al-Sahlawi

Can Al-Sahlawi regain his form against Russia? (Photo courtesy - STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Can Al-Sahlawi regain his form against Russia? (Photo courtesy – STR/AFP/Getty Images)

The leading light for Saudi Arabia, Al-Sahlawi was on fire as the Asian nation returned to the World Cup for the first time since 2006. The experienced striker is the current squad’s top scorer with 28 goals in 40 appearances, with 16 of those coming during the qualifiers.

Those 16 goals made him the joint-top scorer across the world during the qualifiers, alongside Robert Lewandowski. So, naturally, there is a lot of hype surrounding the 31-year-old, who also trained with Manchester United for three weeks to regain his fitness and gain some critical experience.

But, if his form leading up to the tournament is anything to go by, Al-Sahlawi looks far from the player who led his side back into the World Cup. Should he put his sketchy pre-tournament behind him though, Saudi Arabia could become a tricky opposition for Russia on Thursday.

Aleksei Miranchuk

An exciting prospect. (Photo courtesy - Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

An exciting prospect. (Photo courtesy – Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Golovin might be getting most of the spotlight heading into the World Cup, but the Miranchuk twins are not far behind. Aleksei has received more opportunities with Russia thus far, and should be a starting against Saudi Arabia on Thursday.

Like Golovin, Miranchuk will be part of the creative process for Russia, albeit in more advance positions in and around the Saudi Arabia box. Playing just off Fyodor Smolov, the 22-year-old will look to use his understanding with the striker and look to set him up with the chances while also linking up with Golovin behind him.

But, he doesn’t usually score as much as he should, which could increase the responsibility on Smolov’s shoulders. Nevertheless, Miranchuk’s creative abilities are sure to come in handy in the final third for Russia as they look to begin the World Cup on a winning note.