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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)
2018 World Cup Group A Preview & 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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Al-Jassim, Nawaf Al-Abed, Yahya Al-Shehri, Fahad Al-Muwallad and Mohammad Al Sahlawi 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.
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 the main reason for optimism, understandable as the speedster has provided an incredible 36 goals and 10 assists for Liverpool this season.
The Pharaohs will be one of the more curious prospects in Russia. An opening game against Uruguay will be difficult before they take on Russia and Saudi Arabia. If Salah can continue to play at a high level there is no reason why Egypt can’t escape from Group A. One thing is for sure, they will have a lot of fun trying.
Uruguay deserve to be favourites for Group A as they easily have the best squad with the most international experience. 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.
Group A Winners: Uruguay at 2.10
Group A to Qualify: Egypt at 2.50
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