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FIFA World Cup 2018: Group A Preview

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The host nation feature in a group they will find very difficult to get out of.

With less than three weeks to kick-off, there’s almost enough time to relish this countdown to the 21st edition of football’s greatest spectacle, the FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia. As usual, 32 nations have been stacked in groups of four. Here’s a quick guide to Group A, featuring hosts Russia alongside Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Uruguay. 


Russia



Factsheet

Last World Cup Finish: Group Stage (24th overall) at Brazil 2014,

Best World Cup Finish: Semi-Finals (4th place) at England 1966,

Manager: Stanislav Cherchesov

Confederation: UEFA

Captain: Igor Akinfeev

FIFA ranking: 66

Likely Formation: 3-5-2

Road to World Cup

Russia earned automatic qualification by virtue of being the host nation.

Manager

Former Russia and Spartak Moscow goalkeeper Stanislav Cherchesov will be the man in charge of the Sbornaya. Before his appointment as the head coach, Cherchesov led Polish side Legia Warsaw to clinch a domestic double the previous season.

Probable Squad

Players to Watch

Veteran goalkeeper and star player Igor Akinfeev will be wearing the captain’s armband for Russia in the World Cup. The skipper would hope to inspire his boys to do well in front of their home crowd and sail beyond the group stages.

Being the top goalscorer in the Russian Premier League for the past two seasons while missing out on a third consecutive title in 2017/18 by a whisker, Fyodor Smolov has done exceptionally well to cement his place in the starting XI. This will do a lot to his confidence and he has already made his intentions pretty clear for the summer.

21-year old playmaker Aleksandr Golovin would also like to make his presence felt. The talented central midfielder for CSKA Moscow is on the ‘wanted’ list of many top European clubs including Arsenal.

SWOT Analysis

  


 SAUDI ARABIA 

Factsheet

Last World Cup Finish: Group Stage (28th overall) at Germany 2006,

Best World Cup Finish: Round of 16 (12th place) at USA 1994,

Manager: Juan Antonio Pizzi

Confederation: AFC

Captain: Osama Hawsawi

FIFA ranking: 67

Likely Formation: 4-3-3/4-5-1

Road to World Cup

After negotiating Round 2 of the Qualifiers with ease, Saudi Arabia finished Round 3 occupying second place in their group behind Japan. Although, they were level on points with the Socceroos, their better goal difference meant the Saudis were through to Russia.

Manager

In what will be their fifth FIFA World Cup appearance, the Green Falcons from the Saudi kindom would be guided by former Barcelona striker Juan Antonio Pizzi. The Argentina-born former Spanish international has previously managed the Chilean national team. Interestingly enough, Pizzi happens to be their third manager in less than a year.

Squad

 

Preliminary Squad:

GK: Yasser Al Mosailem, Abdullah Al Mayouf, Assaf Al Qarni, Mohammed Al Owais;

DF: Mansoor Al Harbi, Yasser Al Shahrani, Mohammed Al Breik, Mohammed Jahfali, Ali Al Bulaihi,  Saeed Al Mowalad, Osama Hawsawi, Omar Hawsawi, Motaz Hawsawi;

MF: Abdullah Al Khaibri, Abdullah Otayf,  Taisir Al Jassim, Housain Al Mogahwi, Salman Al Faraj, Nawaf Al Abed, Mohammmed Kanno, Hattan Bahebri, Mohammed Al Kwikbi, Salem Al Dawsari, Yahya Al Shehri, Abdulmalek Al Khaibri;

FW: Mohammad Al Sahlawi, Muhannad Assiri,Fahad Al Muwallad.

Players to Watch

It was Fahad Al-Muwallad’s solitary goal against Japan that helped the Green Falcons book their ticket to Russia this summer. At 23, this talented winger is considered one of the most promising and quickest players in the region. Known for his technical prowess and clinical finishing, he could well shatter the net if given a sniff in front of goal.

Yayha Al-Shehri is another valuable asset for the Asian side. The versatile midfielder was amongst the goals during the Qualifiers and is upbeat about taking his nation back to the highest stage after over a decade.

On loan at Villarreal from Al-Hilal, Salem Al-Dawsari is another exciting prospect for the Saudis upfront. With good ball control and the ability to deliver accurate crosses inside the box, Al-Dawsari has delivered time and again for Al-Hilal and could be in for a busy summer in Russia.

SWOT Analysis

 


 EGYPT 

Factsheet

Factsheet

Last World Cup Finish: Group Stage (20th overall) at Italy 1990,

Best World Cup Finish: Group Stage (13th place) at Italy 1934,

Manager: Héctor Cúper

Confederation: CAF

Captain: Essam El-Hadary

FIFA ranking: 46

Likely Formation: 4-2-3-1

Road to World Cup

Road to World Cup: A ‘tsunami in African football’ aided by their ability to adapt to the changing footballing landscape helped Egypt qualify for the mega event for the first time in over a quarter of a century. Breezing past Round 2, the Pharaohs topped their group in Round 3 of the Qualifiers ahead of Uganda, Ghana and DR Congo. It was that man, Mohammed Salah again, whose 95th minute penalty against THE Congo saw his nation enter the World Cup finals surpassing a host of African heavyweights.

Manager

Manager: Argentinian Héctor Cúper has been managing the Egypt national team since 2015. He has managed extensively in Spain and Italy in the initial days of his coaching career. A holder of three international caps for Argentina, Cúper ended his playing career with Huracan before venturing into management.

Squad

 

 

Players to Watch

The Pharaohs would hope to ride as far as possible with the swashbuckling Liverpool forward Mohammed Salah. The Egyptian has found the back of the net 44 times in 52 games in all competitions this season, also earning the Premier League Golden Boot in the process. His inclusion is expected to be confirmed just before the tournament, owing to his injury in the UEFA Champions League final. 

At 45, captain and goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary, looks all set to enter the record books as the oldest player to play in the World Cup finals. The evergreen shot-stopper was instrumental in Egypt’s quest for WC qualification.

Stoke City’s Ramadan Sobhi is another rare bright spot in the squad. The versatile winger has immediately established himself as a fan-favorite at the club after his arrival from Al-Ahly last summer. His raw bursts of pace and ability to float away with the ball makes the 21-year-old a player to watch out for.

SWOT Analysis

 


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 URUGUAY 

Factsheet

Last World Cup Finish: Round of 16 (12th overall) at Brazil 2014,

Best World Cup Finish: Winners (twice) at Uruguay 1930, Brazil 1950.

Manager: Óscar Tabárez

Confederation: CONMEBOL

Captain: Diego Godin

FIFA ranking: 17

Likely Formation: 4-4-2

Road to World Cup

Road to World Cup:  In the CONMEBOL round robin format, Uruguay finished second behind Brazil. However, Le Celeste didn’t have the best of starts to the campaign losing three out of the first four games. A few odd draws midway through qualification helped them sort out their shortcomings and finish the Qualifiers with nine wins, four draws and five losses.

Manager

Manager: Óscar Tabárez, 71, continues to guide the side since taking over the post way back in 2006. It was he who reintroduced the 4-3-3 formation in the Uruguayan footballing setup with a unique roadmap.

Squad

 

Players to Watch

For Uruguay, negotiating the group stage won't require much of a herculean effort it seems. The strike duo of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, back from successful club duties will need to change gears and turn up in national colours. While Suarez scored 25 goals for Barcelona, Cavani walked away with the Golden Boot in Ligue 1 with 28 goals for PSG. With goals galore between the two, their opposition should brace for a tough time at the back.

Diego Godin has been an ever-present figure in the Atletico Madrid’s backline owing to his mental toughness and the ability to see off two of the best attacking threats in Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. The Uruguayan will have the captain’s armband up his sleeve and would surely hope to sway away the opposition’s attacking moves.

SWOT Analysis

 


Group A Fixtures:

14 June 2018 - Russia v Saudi Arabia, 8:30 PM (IST)

15 June 2018 - Egypt v Uruguay, 5:30 PM (IST)

19 June 2018 - Russia v Egypt, 11:30 PM (IST)

20 June 2018 - Uruguay v Saudi Arabia, 8:30 PM (IST)

25 June 2018 - Saudi Arabia v Egypt, 7:30 PM (IST)

25 June 2018 - Uruguay v Russia, 7:30 PM (IST)

What to Expect:

Group A doesn't boast of the major powerhouses of the game, but exciting qualification battles are on the cards. Hosts Russia might well just edge past Egypt, who are the other favorites to finish second in the group. We believe a Round of 16 entry is not impossible for the home nation. Although, Saudi Arabia have been fortunate to be drawn Group A, the chances of their progression look rather bleak.

For the Asian powerhouse, this will be a true test of their character, to hold on to their strengths and play for pride. It will be interesting to see if they manage to salvage a point at the end of the day. But, Russia and Egypt have better odds on paper than the Saudis to go further beyond the group stages.

AFCON runners-up Egypt would very much like to go beyond the group stage. But, the lack of experience on the big stage could just hold them back. Undoubtedly, Salah's role will be decisive if Egypt are to cross the first hurdle.

We predict a third place finish for the Pharaohs in Group A. Óscar Tabárez and Uruguay are expected to roll past the Group stage and might already be setting their sights for the Round of 16 and beyond, given the opposition they have drawn. In all likelihood, they will top Group A.

Published: Tue May 29, 2018 12:59 PM IST

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