With the Champions League wrapping up on the weekend, all of the domestic football compeittions are now finished and fans can now finally turn their attentions to the upcoming FIFA World Cup which is set to kick off in Russia in just under three weeks!
In the lead up to the big event starting on the 15th of June, we will be previewing every group of the group stage and capping it all off with our full mega tournament preview in a few weeks! Check out our preview for Group A below.
Russia will be participating in their 11th FIFA World Cup and hosting their very first as the world descends on chilly Moscow in June for the opening ceremony and match which sees them facing off against Saudi Arabia. It’s hard to get a read on Russia as they didn’t have to qualify for the World Cup, however, they have somewhat recently participated in two major tournaments, the Euros in 2016 and the Confederations Cup in 2017.
They performed poorly in both tournaments, winning just one out of their three group stage matches in both competitions. They’ll have a better opportunity to advance to the knockout stage in the World Cup as they come into the Group A renowned as the second-best team in the pool.
Since the Confederations Cup back in June of last year, Russia has played six friendlies and have only recorded one win, which was against South Korea in the first of those six back in October. Since then they have a winless record through five friendlies to Iran, Argentina, Spain, Brazil and France. Granted, they have played arguably the four best teams in the world in their lead up friendlies, however, it’s hard to trust Russia’s form at the moment. As long as a healthy Mo Salah turns up to the tournament for Egypt, I can see some value in Russia exiting the tournament in the group stage.
Players to watch: The striking duo of Aleksander Kokorin and Fyodor Smolov represent a daunting pair and should be tough to stop at home.
This will be Egypt’s third appearance in the FIFA World Cup after having been eliminated in the group stages of both the 1934 and 1990 tournaments. The Egyptians went through a rough patch of football history since their departure from the 1990 World Cup but have since had a resurgence of sorts and are now ranked 46th in the FIFA world rankings.
It’s no doubting that the majority of their success has come on the back of some outstanding form by star player Mo Salah. The Liverpool striker won the EPL golden boot award in record fashion this season and carried his Reds all the way to the Champions League final, where he was injured in the first half.
A lot will depend on Salah’s fitness coming into the tournament, but you can’t count out Egypt even without him. They have a bunch of players who have all been playing well in Europe over the past few years in Mohamed El Neny, Kouka and Ramadan Sobhi and I expect them to put up a spirted performance in Russia.
Players to watch: Mo Salah is currently the third favourite for the Ballon d’Or behind only Messi and Ronaldo and could catapult into contention by carrying his team to the knockout stage.
Uruguay come into the tournament as strong favourites to take out Group A. They have the most World Cup pedigree of any of the four teams in the group, having won the tournament twice in 1930 and 1950 and having advanced to the knockout stage seven times since.
Led by captain and Atletico Madrid defender Diego Godin, the Uruguayan national team is staked to the brim with top level talent playing for the biggest clubs around Europe and the rest of the world. Since qualifying for the World Cup with a 4-2 win over Bolivia in October, they have played four matches, winning their most recent two in the China Cup against Czech Republic and Wales.
Hard to look past Uruguay to win Group A. Their midfield is world class and the striking combo of Luis Saurez and Edinson Cavani are two of the most talented forwards in the world.
Players to watch: Saurez had a fairly quiet domestic season by his lofty standards but still netted 31 goals in 51 total games. Can win any game singlehandedly.
Many think that Saudi Arabia are just making up the numbers in Group A alongside some quality teams. However, if their history in the World Cup is anything to go by, fans will know that absolutely anything can happen here. They are one of just five Asian Conference sides to advance past the group stage in World Cup history alongside Australia, Japan, South Korea and North Korea.
They will be making their return to the World Cup in 2018 after making four straight tournaments from 1994-2006 before missing two in a row. They have been great in their last two friendly matches against Algeria and Greece respectively, winning both with a score line of 2-0.
As we say in 1994, Saudi Arabia are capable of upsetting bug nations but it’s hard to see them securing any more than one win in Group A. We think they could be a good chance against Egypt or Russia, cant see them securing any points against the Uruguayans.
Players to watch: Mohammad Al-Sahlawi is an absolute star not only of the Saudi Arabian league but of world football in general. Should be playing in Europe and most likely will be after displaying his talents at the World Cup.
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