With the 2018 World Cup in Russia right around the corner here is a preview of what we can expect to see in the three rounds of matches from Group A. In Group A, we have hosts Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and two-time world cup winner, Uruguay. As hosts of the tournament, Russia were automatically qualified for the World Cup.
The host nation are ranked 66th in the world which is their lowest ranking ever and a massive fall since Euro 2012 when they were ranked ninth all according to FIFA.com. They have lost their last three games and haven’t won in six with their last win coming in October of 2017 beating South Korea 4-2. They played Turkey in a friendly on the 5th June with the game ending 1-1.
21 of the 23-man squad selected for the World Cup play their club football in Russia with midfielder Denis Cheryshev (Villareal) and third choice goalkeeper Vladimir Gabulov (Club Brugge) playing abroad. The average age of the squad is 28 years, which in today’s standards is high enough.
Goalkeeper and captain Igor Akinfeev has earned over 100 caps for Russia and will be pivotal in helping the hosts through to the next round. Fyodor Smolov has 12 goals in 31 caps for Russia and has been impressing clubs all over Europe this season with 14 league goals helping Krasnodor to a surprise fourth-place finish in the Russian league this season. The player was subject to a failed bid from West Ham in January and is definitely one to watch for the Russians.
Saudi Arabia’s path to the World Cup is a little more complicated to what we’re used to here in Europe. In the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) there are four qualification rounds plus an intercontinental play-off. The Saudi’s entered the qualifying process in round two in which they topped their group and progressed to the third round where they came second in their group and qualified automatically for the World Cup.
They qualified having won six, losing three, and drawing one in the third round to nip just in front on Australia on goal difference. They have only won three of their eight fixtures held in 2018. This is Saudi Arabia’s fifth World Cup appearance having failed to qualify for the last two in 2010 and 2014. Osama Hawsawi and Taisir Al-Jassim are the longest serving players in the current squad with 265 caps and 25 goals between them, while dangerman, Mohammad Al-Sahlawi being the countries sixth highest scorer with 28 goals in 39 caps, is a player to watch.
Egypt might have been biting their nails to the nub waiting to hear if Mohammed Salah was going to be fit for the World Cup after his dislocated shoulder in the Champions League Final defeat to Real Madrid, but can rest easy now that he will make the start of the World Cup. After having a season to rival Cristiano Ronaldo’s and Lionel Messi in terms of goals, Egypt may well be able to get out of this group, however, a crushing 3-0 loss to Belgium on June 6th did nothing for their confidence
Egypt’s route to the World Cup finals included a 4-1 win over Chad in the second qualification round and then they topped their third round qualification group which contained Ghana, Congo, and Uganda. Mo Salah was top goal scorer in the third round group stage with five goals.
However, since qualifying for the World Cup, Egypt’s form hasn’t been great at all, failing to win in their last six games. An added note is their first choice goalkeeper and captain, Essam El Hadary is 45 years old and will be the oldest player to ever play at a World Cup tournament.
The last team in this group is two time World Cup champions Uruguay. They are nailed on favourites to top this group with talented players like Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani in their squad. Uruguay qualified for the World Cup coming second in the CONMEBOL qualification league winning nine and drawing four of their 18 games. Striker Cavani was top scorer of the qualification league with 10 goals.
Uruguay’s form leading up to the World Cup has been good. They have won three and drawn two of their last six games. This includes winning the China Cup beating the Czech Republic and Wales. Star plays Luis Suarez as well as Cavani will need to be in flying form for the later stages of the World Cup. Suarez scored 31 goals and assisted 18 this season with Barcelona while Cavani got 40 goals and 12 assists for what could be his last season with PSG.
Expectations for this group is that the battle for second spot will be tight. With Uruguay being favourites to take top spot, it’s really down to between Russia, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia to nab the other last 16 spot from group A.
With Russia getting the tournament underway on the 14th against Saudi Arabia and having home support we can expect them to be tough to beat. Egypt having Mo Salah is crucial, he could be a deciding factor if it was to be decided by goal difference. Tough group to call but from what’s been outlined, it looks like Egypt will take second spot in this Group.