Group A Preview & Tips: Host nation Russia face tricky opponents in Uruguay, Egypt and Saudi Arabia

Uruguay should emerge as Group A winners but who is likely to join them in the round of 16?
Uruguay's Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani (Pablo Porciuncula/AFP/Getty Images)
Uruguay's Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani (Pablo Porciuncula/AFP/Getty Images)

2018 World Cup Group A Preview & Betting Tips


Group A consists of host nation Russia, Uruguay, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. While many think the hosts got away with an easy group and should comfortably qualify, it might be wise to look closely at their opponents to see who has the best chance of getting into the knockout rounds.

Russia


Russia haven’t gone past the group stage at a major tournament since 2008, but many believe that home advantage and a weak group could work in their favour. This will be Russia’s 11th World Cup with a fourth place finish in 1966 their best result. They have failed to get out of the group stage in their last four appearances (2014, 2002, 1994 & 1990).

Stanislav Cherchesov became manager after a disappointing Euro 2016 campaign, his first task was to reinvent the defence after the retirements of Sergei Ignashevich and the Berezutskiy twins. With so many injuries in defence Cherchesov was forced to coerce 38-year-old Ignashevich out of retirement. 

38-year-old Sergei Ignashevich has come out of retirement with Russia short of numbers in defence. (Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)

With a squad made up entirely of players plying their trade in the Russian Premier League, much is expected from captain Igor Akinfeev, Yuri Zhirkov, Alan Dzagoev, Fedor Smolov and youngsters Aleksey Miranchuk and Aleksandr Golovin. Results have been poor however and there is little optimism surrounding Sbornaya.

Brazil 2014 showed us that home advantage in a World Cup can have a negative effect with the added pressure and scrutiny being a burden. With Vladimir Putin and an expectant nation watching on, only time will tell how Sbornaya perform on home soil. Russia kick-off the World Cup on 14 June against Saudi Arabia in Moscow and desperately need a positive result before taking on Egypt and Uruguay. 

Goalkeepers: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow), Vladimir Gabulov (Club Brugge), Andrey Lunyov (Zenit St Petersburg).

Defenders: Vladimir Granat, Fyodor Kudryashov (both Rubin Kazan), Ilya Kutepov (Spartak Moscow), Andrei Semyonov (Akhmat Grozny), Sergei Ignashevich, Mario Fernandes (both CSKA Moscow), Igor Smolnikov (Zenit St Petersburg).

Midfielders: Yury Gazinsky (Krasnodar), Aleksandr Golovin, Alan Dzagoev (both CSKA Moscow), Aleksandr Yerokhin, Yuri Zhirkov, Daler Kuzyaev (all Zenit St Petersburg), Roman Zobnin, Aleksandr Samedov (both Spartak Moscow), Anton Miranchuk (Lokomotiv Moscow), Denis Cheryshev (Villarreal).

Forwards: Artem Dzyuba (Arsenal Tula), Aleksei Miranchuk (Lokomotiv Moscow), Fyodor Smolov (Krasnodar).

Uruguay


La Celeste have a proud record in the World Cup after winning in 1930 and 1950. This is their 13th World Cup appearance after a disappointing campaign in Brazil where they were knocked out in the Round of 16 against Colombia. 71-year-old manager Óscar Tabárez is the oldest and longest serving manager in Russia having been in charge since February 2006.

Atlético Madrid colleagues Diego Godín and José Giménez will hold the team together from central defence but it’s in midfield where the main changes have occurred. Many of the old guard could make way for the likes of 20-year-old Rodrigo Bentancur and 22-year-olds Lucas Torreira and Nahitan Nández who will add some much needed youth in the engine room.

Uruguay (Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images)

Most of the focus will understandably be on the attacking duo Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, but behind them is a physical team that play to their strengths. Finishing second behind Brazil in a tough South American qualification group, Uruguay are a dangerous team and should have no problems emerging as winners from Group A.

Goalkeepers: Fernando Muslera (Galatasaray), Martin Silva (Vasco da Gama), Martin Campana (Independiente).

Defenders: Diego Godin, Jose Maria Gimenez (both Atletico Madrid), Sebastian Coates (Sporting Lisbon), Maximiliano Pereira (Porto), Gaston Silva (Independiente), Martin Caceres (Lazio), Guillermo Varela (Penarol).

Midfielders: Nahitan Nandez (Boca Juniors), Lucas Torreira (Sampdoria), Matias Vecino (Inter Milan), Rodrigo Bentancur (Juventus), Carlos Sanchez (Monterrey), Giorgian De Arrascaeta (Cruzeiro), Diego Laxalt (Genoa), Cristian Rodriguez (Penarol), Jonathan Urretaviscaya (Monterrey).

Forwards: Cristhian Stuani (Girona), Maximiliano Gomez (Celta Vigo), Edinson Cavani (Paris St-Germain), Luis Suarez (Barcelona).

Saudi Arabia


Saudi Arabia are expected to be Group A whipping boys but should be respected after a solid qualifying campaign. This will be the Saudi Arabia’s fifth World Cup after featuring in four consecutive tournaments between 1994 and 2006, their best result coming in 1994 when they reached the Round of 16.

Saudi Arabia will be looking to Mohammed Alsahlawi for goals at the World Cup. (David Rogers/Getty Images)

The Green Falcons have been managed by Argentine Juan Antonio Pizzi since November 2017. The bulk of the squad ply their trade in the Saudi Professional League with the key players being Taisir Aljassam, Yahya Al-Shehri, Fahad Almuwallad and Mohammed Alsahlawi who scored 16 goals in qualification. 

The Saudi Arabian squad is ranked second last in terms of market value and getting out of Group A would be an achievement. A positive result against Russia in their opening game will be a huge confidence boost before taking on Uruguay and Egypt.

Goalkeepers: Mohammed Alowais, Yasser Almosailem (both Al Ahli), Abdullah Almuaiouf (Al Hilal).

Defenders: Mansoor Alharbi (Al Ahli), Yasser Alshahrani, Mohammed Alburyak (both Al Hilal), Motaz Hawsawi (Al Ahli), Osama Hawsawi (Al Hilal), Omar Othman (Al Nassr), Ali Albulayhi (Al Hilal).

Midfielders: Abdullah Alkhaibari (Al Shabab), Abdulmalek Alkhaibri, Abdullah Otayf (both Al Hilal), Taiseer Aljassam, Hussain Almoqahwi (both Al Ahli), Salman Alfaraj, Mohamed Kanno (both Al Hilal), Hatan Bahbir (Al Shabab), Salem Aldawsari (Al Hilal), Yahya Al-Shehri (Al Nassr).

Forwards: Mohammed Alsahlawi (Al Nassr), Muhannad Asiri (Al Ahli), Fahad Almuwallad (Al Ittihad).

Egypt


Egypt played once game at the 1934 World Cup with their only other appearance coming in Italy in 1990. It’s been a long wait for the Pharaohs but expectations are high after the seven time African Cup of Nations winners were drawn in a favourable group. The Egyptians qualified for Russia ahead of Uganda, Ghana and Congo, losing just once.

Managed by 62-year-old Argentine Héctor Cúper since 2015, Egypt have a solid spine of Premier League players in Ahmed Hegazy, Mohamed Elneny, Ramadan Sobhi and Mohamed Salah. The continual excellence of talisman and national hero Salah is their main weapon but he suffered an injury in the Champions League final and won't join his teammates for their opener against Uruguay.

Mohamed Salah of Egypt (Robert Hradil/Getty Images)

The speedster provided an incredible 36 goals and 10 assists for Liverpool last season and will be sorely missed. Hopefully for the Pharoahs he is able to play a part in their campaign. Mahmoud Hassan or "Trezeguet" could be a wild card, the 23-year-old was exceptional for Turkish side Kasimpasa last with 13 goals and six assists, completing more dribbles than any other player in the Super Lig.

Egypt will be one of the more curious prospects in Russia. An opening game against Uruguay will be difficult especially without Salah but if he returns for the games agains Russia and Saudi Arabia their chances of qualifying for the knockout rounds increases significantly. 

Goalkeepers: Essam El Hadary (Al Taawoun), Mohamed El-Shennawy, Sherif Ekramy (both Al Ahly).

Defenders: Ahmed Fathi, Saad Samir, Ayman Ashraf (all Al Ahly), Mahmoud Hamdy (Zamalek), Mohamed Abdel-Shafy (Al Fateh), Ahmed Hegazi (West Brom), Ali Gabr (Zamalek), Ahmed Elmohamady (Aston Villa), Omar Gaber (Los Angeles FC).

Midfielders: Tarek Hamed, (Zamalek), Abdallah Said (Al Ahli), Sam Morsy (Wigan Athletic), Mohamed Elneny (Arsenal), Ramadan Sobhi (Stoke City), Mahmoud Hassan (Kasimpasa).

Forwards: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool), Marwan Mohsen (Al Ahly), Shikabala (Zamalek), Amr Warda (Atromitos), Mahmoud Kahraba (Al Ittihad).

Verdict


Uruguay deserve to be favourites for Group A as they easily have the best squad with the most international experience, not to mention Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez. They have shortened from 2.10 to 1.91 and are a good shout to finish in top. 

Saudi Arabia are not likely to seriously threaten which leaves one spot for Egypt and Russia. South Africa are the only host nation to fail to make it out of the World Cup group stage but Russia are at risk of becoming the second. Salah's injury and uncertainty about his return has made second place wide open. 

Group A Winner: Uruguay @ 1.91
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Matthew Marshall 17 June 2018

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