Egypt's Mohamed Salah was all smiles during training in Yekaterinburg on Thursday. Photo: Natacha Pisarenko/AP

We tried to feel it on Thursday, but it wasn’t quite up there when it comes to World Cup kickoffs.

The opening ceremony didn’t have any truly great moments, unless you’re a big Robbie Williams fan – as he rolled back the years with ‘Let me entertain you’ and ‘Angels’, before he threw in his usual shock factor with the middle finger during ‘Rock DJ’.

Saudi Arabia didn’t put up much of a show either, surrendering rather meekly to an average Russian outfit.

Let’s get to the real World Cup today! There are three terrific games in store…

2pm: Egypt v Uruguay

It’s the current darling of Liverpool, Mohamed Salah, against the former Anfield hitman Luis Suarez. Egyptian fans will be delighted that their hero has been passed fit, but having not played since that fateful Champions League final on May 26, how sharp will Salah be?

And that is where Uruguay have the edge. Yes, Suarez is a vital cog, but they have another proven goal-scorer in Edinson Cavani alongside him, and a number of influential figures such as Diego Godin and Matias Vecino.

Salah will need serious support from the likes of Ahmed Fathi and Mohamed Elneny if they are to cause an upset.

Prediction: Egypt 1-2 Uruguay

5pm: Morocco v Iran

In the absence of superstar names on either side, this match could be decided by the tactics from two master coaches, Hervé Renard (Morocco) and Carlos Queiroz (Iran).

The latter has the South African connection as a former Bafana Bafana coach, but it’s Renard who achieved great success on the continent by winning the Afcon with Zambia and the Ivory Coast.

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz will look to outwit Moroccan mentor Hervé Renard. Photo: AP

Queiroz is normally a cagey operator, so could it become a bore draw?

What could contribute to that is the fact that Moroccan captain Medhi Benatia is a highly-rated defender at Juventus.

They’re in a tough Group B with Portugal and Spain, so they may opt to not lose against the other ‘weak’ team…

Prediction: Morocco 0-0 Iran

8pm: Portugal v Spain

How do you recover from losing your coach two days before the World Cup? Well, that is the question the Spanish players will have to answer against a top-quality Portugal.

Julen Lopetegui is already at Real Madrid, but new coach Fernando Hierro is confident that his experienced group can rise above the setback and still contend for the title.

And what a thrilling one-on-one duel in store between Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid teammate Sergio Ramos – will we see another ‘rugby tackle’ from the Real skipper? Bernardo Silva from Manchester City will be a key lieutenant to Ronaldo, along with veteran right back Pep and midfielder Joao Moutinho.

But can the Euro 2016 champions stop the slick Spaniards on the biggest stage of them all?

Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo goes through a drill during practice in Sochi on Thursday. Photo: Francisco Seco/AP

They need to get past the world’s best goalkeeper, David de Gea, but before the Portuguese get to the Manchester United No 1, can they outlast the class of Andres Iniesta, Thiago and Sergio Busquets? That’s not to mention stopping Diego Costa upfront.

Spain are the favourites, but...

Prediction: Portugal 1-0 Spain!



IOL Sport

Like IOL Sport on Facebook

Follow IOL Sport on Twitter