The World Cup is edging ever closer, although the opening clash isn’t exactly the most intriguing. Russia’s meeting with Saudi Arabia in Moscow is a low key encounter; but that match shows how this group is shaping up. They’re joined by Uruguay and Egypt, two sides who will also be pushing for a top two finish in Group A.
The South American side are odds on favourites to win the group, which puts pressure on hosts Russia. The home nation has made it past the first hurdle in 19 of the 20 World Cups so far, with 13 of those seeing a host reach the semis. However, they could struggle to reach those heights, as the Russians look out of their depth compared to the sides at the top of the betting.
We’re running through the sides in the first group, as hosts Russia look to prolong their stay in the tournament past their opening three games. However, the fact that the runners-up in Group A will play at the national stadium in Moscow says a lot about their chances in this pool.
FIFA Ranking: 66
Best Finish: Fourth Place (1966 – as Soviet Union)
Things were looking up for Russian football when they were announced as World Cup hosts. The country had reached the semis at Euro 2008, thanks to an inspired turn from Andrei Arshavin. In the club game, just a couple of weeks later Anzhi Makhachkala were bought over as they made a doomed bid to join Europe’s elite. However, they had missed the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and they’re set to make a first appearance at the tournament in 16 years.
As hosts, Russia didn’t need to qualify. They have suffered as a result, failing to make the most of their Confederations Cup matches. They won one of three group games, which was their first competitive victory since a win over Montenegro in October 2015. With a squad low on talent, hopes aren’t high for the hosts this summer, despite landing a soft draw in Group A.
FIFA Ranking: 67
Best Finish: Last 16 (1994)
Saudi Arabia return to the World Cup for the first time since 2006. After four straight qualifying successes, they missed out on trips to South Africa and Brazil. The qualifying process for them started over three years to the day of their clash with Russia. They played 18 qualifying matches, which saw them finish up in second in Group B, narrowly ahead of Australia.
The Green Falcons are seen as the outsiders in this group, and that’s probably fair. With a three team scramble for second likely, Saudi Arabia are unlikely to make much of an impact. Recent away losses to Italy, Belgium, Iraq and Portugal don’t bode well for their trip to Russia.
FIFA Ranking: 46
Best Finish: Group Stage (1990)
Egypt’s World Cup preparations were in tatters after events in Keiv, when Mohamed Salah picked up an injury in the Champions League final. The Reds are justified in feeling angry over an injury which cost their Champions League hopes. However, as Egypt prepare for a first World Cup in 28 years, the loss of their talisman is a much bigger concern.
Salah scored five times as Egypt won four of six matches in the final phase of qualification. While they can’t solely rely on him this summer, he is obviously crucial to their chances. Egypt with Salah will at least run Russia close in Group A, without him it’s a very different story.
FIFA Ranking: 17
Best Finish: Winners (1930 & 1950)
The two-time champions have one of the best forward lines in the competition. Should Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez hit form this summer, then Uruguay will cruise through Group A. They’re comfortably the highest ranked side in the group, and they come in to the tournament on the back of one defeat in seven matches.
Uruguay qualified in second place in South America, behind Brazil. They won nine of 18 matches in the most difficult continent, with Cavani hitting 10 goals in the process. Their two forwards scored 71 goals between them this season, lifting five trophies. If they can carry that form over to their national side, then they’re going to be a team to watch.
Take a look at our Uruguay Squad Analysis
Group A Fixtures
Thursday 14th June – Russia vs Saudi Arabia – 4pm, Moscow (ITV)
Friday 15th June – Egypt vs Uruguay – 1pm, Yekaterinburg (BBC)
Tuesday 19th June – Russia vs Egypt – 7pm, Saint Petersburg (BBC)
Wednesday 20th June – Uruguay vs Saudi Arabia – 4pm, Rostov (BBC)
Monday 25th June – Saudi Arabia vs Egypt – 3pm, Volgograd (ITV)
Monday 25th June – Uruguay vs Russia – 3pm, Samara (ITV)
Who is Travelling the Furthest in Group A?
Despite having the advantage of being hosts, Russia are travelling around 3500 kilometres from their base in Novogorsk. It’s only a short trip to their opener in Moscow, but their final clash in Samara accounts for over half of their total distance. Meanwhile, their opponents Saudi Arabia’s shortest trip is 634km each way for their opener in Moscow, as they’ll be covering 8400km in total.
Uruguay will be covering just shy of 6600km during their three group games. Mo Salah will have plenty of time to rest up on the plane, as Egypt are covering over 11000km this summer, the highest in the tournament. While these players will all travel in comfort, the extra time on the plane keeps them away from the training ground.
Who is Going to Qualify From Group A?
Uruguay will be delighted with this group, as it gives them a chance to qualify as group winners. The fixture list has been kind to them, with Egypt up first as Mo Salah races to be fit for their opener. Saudi Arabia are up next, and that could take the sting out of their meeting with Russia.
It’s going to be tight between the hosts and Egypt. We expect Salah to return to make an impact against Russia and Saudi Arabia. That final fixture should boost their chances if they need a result. Perhaps their best course of action could be to rest Salah for those two. The forward will meet Atletico Madrid duo Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez in the Uruguay clash; two players who could make that shoulder much worse.
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