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2018 World Cup preview: Group A

Russia

Squad

Manager: Stanislav Cherchesov

Goalkeepers: Igor Akinfeev, Vladimir Gabulov, Andrey Lunev.

Russia will benefit strongly from having the home support behind them (Image: FIFA)

Defenders: Mario Fernandes, Vladimir Granat, Sergei Ignashevich, Fedor Kudryashov, Ilya Kutepov, Andrey Semenov, Igor Smolnikov.

Midfielders:  Denis Cheryshev, Alan Dzagoev, Aleksandr Erokhin, Yuri Gazinskiy, Alexsandr Golovin, Daler Kuzyaev, Anton Miranchuk, Alexsandr Samedov, Yuri Zhirkov, Roman Zobnin.

Forwards: Artem Dzyuba, Aleksey Miranchuk, Fedor Smolov.

FIFA Ranking: 66

Odds to Win: 66/1

Preview

Russia, the hosts of the 2018 World Cup, automatically qualified for the tournament. However, despite being automatic qualifiers, they certainly have the talent available to advance out of this relatively weak group. The majority of Russia’s squad plays at home in the Russian Premier League with Gabulov (Club Brugge in Belgium) and Cheryshev (Villareal in Spain) as the only exceptions.

Cherchesov has faced considerable criticism as manager for ostracizing talent that could have contributed immensely to Russia’s World Cup campaign. Igor Denisov, Russia’s best defensive midfielder, has not been called up due to disagreements with the manager from their mutual time at Dynamo Moscow.

Igor Akinfeev is one of the most experienced players in Russia’s squad. However, despite Akinfeev’s solid performances in net for his club CSKA Moscow, he has been relatively inconsistent when playing for the national side. He must have a strong tournament if Russia will have any chance of advancing out of the groups.

Golovin and Zobnin are easily Russia’s two most exciting midfielders and should form a strong central midfield pairing. Golovin, a twenty-two-year-old who has been linked to Manchester United, would benefit immensely from a strong tournament.

However, the biggest wild-cards for Russia are their talented but under-performing midfielders, Cheryshev and Dzagoev. Both players have struggled with injuries which have severely hampered their recent form for both club and country. However, both players are incredibly creative and dynamic and can easily turn a game on its head. Dzagoev especially has shown this potential before on the international stage when he finished as the joint top scorer at Euro 2012. Overall, with a favorable draw for Russia, the home supporters have a strong reason to be optimistic

Saudi Arabia

Squad

Manager: Juan Antonio Pizzi

Despite being considerable underdogs, Saudi Arabia could easily advance out of a weak Group A (Image: FIFA)

Goalkeepers: Abdullah Al-Mayouf, Yasser Al-Musailem, Mohamed Al-Owais.

Defenders: Ali al-Bulayhi, Mohammed al-Burayk, Mansour al-Harbi, Yasser al-Shahrani, Motaz Hawsawi, Omar Hawsawi, Osama Hawsawi.

Midfielders: Salem al-Dawsari, Salman al-Faraj, Taisir al-Jassim, Abdullah al-Khaibari, Abdulmalik al-Khaibari, Fahad al-Muwallad, Hussein al-Moqahwi, Yahya al-Shehri,  Hattan Bahebri, Mohammed Kanno, Abdulla Otayf.

Forwards: Mohammed al-Sahlawi, Mohannad Assiri.

FIFA Ranking: 67

Odds to win: 1000/1

Preview

Saudi Arabia is one of five Asian teams to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. In the final round of qualifying, they finished second in their group, one point behind Japan. However, since qualifying, Saudi Arabia have sacked two managers, including Bert Van Marjwik, the man who led them throughout qualification. Saudi Arabia are the lowest ranked team in the World Cup and have not won a match in the World Cup since 1994.

Overall, Saudi Arabia are led by their potent attack. As a team, they finished as the joint top-scorers in the final round of qualification with seventeen goals. Attacker, Mohammad Al-Sahlawy was also the joint top scorer throughout all rounds of qualification as he finished with 16 goals scored. In stark contrast to their attack, Saudi Arabia’s defense often lets them down.

Throughout qualification, they often made errors at the back that the quality of teams at the World Cup will easily capitalize on. They especially struggle to deal with pace. If Pizzi can organize his defense well, Saudi Arabia should have a solid World Cup campaign. However, if he cannot, Saudi Arabia will likely go out at the group stage, despite their potent attack.

Egypt

Squad

Manager: Hector Cuper

Goalkeepers: Sherif Ekramy, Essam El Hadary, Mohamed El-Shennawy.

Egypt are looking to have a strong campaign behind the attacking prowess of Mohamed Salah (Image: FIFA)

Defenders: Mohamed Abdel-Shafy, Ayman Ashraf, Ahmed Elmohamady, Ahmed Fathi, Omar Gaber, Ali Gabr, Mahmoud Hamdy, Ahmed Hegazi, Saad Samir.

Midfielders:  Mohamed Elneny, Tarek Hamed, Kahraba, Sam Morsy, Abdallah Said, Shikabala, Ramadan Sobhi, Trezeguet, Amr Warda.

Forwards:  Marwan Mohsen, Mohamed Salah.

FIFA Ranking: 46

Odds to Win: 250/1

Preview

After topping their group in the final round of qualification, Egypt became one of five African teams to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Despite winning three African Cup of Nations tournaments throughout the 2000s, this is Egypt’s first time playing in the World Cup since 1990.

Their manager, Hector Cuper, is infamous for losing two straight Champions League Finals with Valencia nearly twenty years ago. He sets Egypt up in a fairly defensive style that has them sitting behind the ball and defending for long periods of time before sending long balls up to their strikers. Nevertheless, Egypt do struggle at defending crosses as thirteen out of eighteen goals conceded under Cuper have come from crosses.

Following his incredible season for Liverpool where he finished as the top-scorer in the Premier League, all eyes will be on Mohamed Salah. He also finished as the joint top-scorer throughout Egypt’s qualification campaign with five goals. Trezeguet is another quality player who has a lot riding on this tournament. The twenty-three-year-old wide midfielder has just concluded an impressive season for Kasımpaşa in Turkey and has recently been linked with several Premier League clubs including Leicester City, Everton, and Burnley.

A big reason for Egypt’s strong defensive record is midfielder Tarek Hamed. He performs incredibly well in his role of shielding the back-line and breaking up play. If Salah and Trezeguet aren’t firing in form, Egypt will certainly struggle to score goals. However, Cuper’s tactics and Egypt’s stout defense should keep them competitive in all three group stage games.

Uruguay

Squad

Manager: Oscar Tabarez

Goalkeepers: Martin Campana, Fernando Muslera, Martin Silva.

The class of Group A, Uruguay are expecting a deep run in the knockout stages (Image: FIFA)

Defenders: Martin Caceres, Sebastian Coates, Jose Maria Gimenez, Diego Godin, Maximiliano Pereira, Gaston Silva, Guillermo Varela.

Midfielders: Giorgian De Arrascaeta, Rodrigo Bentancur, Diego Laxalt, Nahitan Nandez, Cristian Rodriguez, Carlos Sanchez, Lucas Torreira, Jonathan Urretaviscaya, Matias Vecino.

Forwards: Edinson Cavani, Maximiliano Gomez, Cristhian Stuani, Luis Suarez.

FIFA Ranking: 17

Odds to Win: 33/1

Preview

The 2018 World Cup will mark Uruguay’s 13th appearance in the competition. They have won the World Cup twice in their history. However, their most recent victory came nearly seventy years ago in 1950.

Uruguay recently made a semi-unexpected run to the semi-finals in 2010 before losing 3-2 to the Netherlands. During qualification for the 2018 World Cup, Uruguay finished second in CONMEBOL, arguably the most difficult qualification region in the world. In short, Uruguay has entered this World Cup with fairly lofty expectations.

Uruguay are led by three veterans from their 2010 run to the semis. Diego Godin, the captain and most vocal leader of the team, is a rock in defense at center back. He is an incredibly intelligent defender and that intelligence should be on full display as he directs the back-line.

The other two key members of the 2010 squad can be found leading the attack. Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez form one of the most lethal striking pairs at the World Cup. Cavani is coming off an impressive season for PSG while Suarez is coming off a rather up and down season for Barcelona. Uruguay have the quality to advance out of this group even if only one of the two is in form. However, if both are in great form, Uruguay could easily be the team from South America that advances deepest in the tournament.

Prediction

Group A is one of the more wide-open groups in the tournament. Uruguay is the clear favorite and should top the group without too much struggle. However, after that, the group becomes incredibly interesting.

Russia, the hosts, should be able to feed off the energy of the home crowd and exceed expectations. Egypt have possibly the most in-form player in the group, Mohammed Salah, in their side and he could easily carry their team to the knockout stages. Finally, despite having a squad that is relatively unknown to most Europeans, Saudi Arabia performed incredibly well throughout qualifying. They certainly have a good enough squad to get results against Egypt and Russia if they can avoid defensive errors.

Overall, Uruguay will finish first with relative ease. Russia will finish second in a solid campaign for the host country. Egypt will finish third with Salah performing below expectations during the group stages. Finally, the defensive mistakes will be too much for Saudi Arabia to overcome and they will finish last.

Featured image by FIFA

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