The World Cup kicks off on the 14th of June and it begins at 4pm UK time with Russia v Saudi Arabia. Group A is made up of Russia, Uruguay, Egypt and Saudia Arabia and it could be a group that throws up a suprise or two. Out of the four nations involved only Uruguay have shown any real form lately and going into this tournament I fancy them to top the group. The second qualification position is wide open and do not rule out a suprise. The host nation are without doubt favourites to progress through to the second phase but do not be suprised if Egypt claim that spot.
As host of the tournament a lot will be expected of Russia but I am not sure they will be a team to be feared. As hosts they have not played many competitive games since been knocked out of the 2016 European Championships at the group stage. In that tournament they only managed to gain a point by drawing with England. The 2107 Confederations Cup was a disaster for them and they only managed to beat New Zealand by two goals to nil. It will take a massive improvement in their form and a few lucky breaks for them to be successful during the summer and like in all tournaments it is always good for the host nation to do well. Two players who a lot will be expected of are striker Alaexandr Kokorin who plays for Zenith Saint Petersburg and his fellow team mate Yuri Zhirkov, who in my opinion is a cracking player. Time will tell if they can get the results to have a good tournament but they will need to win their opening game to get some momentum going and then maybe they can progress.
Uruguay qualified from the South American group that was topped by Brazil and they are an excellent side with plenty of stars in the squad. I would place them as favourites to top this group and with the likes of Suarez and Cavani upfront I may not be to far off the mark. Uruguay have a good record in the World Cup and they are one of only eight teams who have actually won the World Cup, having lifted the trophy in 1930 and 1950. There is no reason to believe that they can not go very far in the tournament. Last year I was lucky enough to see them play in the Aviva Stadium in Dublin against the Republic of Ireland and although they lost it was a great chance to see them pass and move the ball around as only South Americans can do. It would be a big shock to me if they do not get out of this group and when they do anything is possible.
Egypt are a bit of an unknown entity to most people but if they can produce players like Mo Salah what other little nuggets have they got hidden away. They got to Russia out of a complicated qualification campaign and they topped a group which consisted of Uganda, Ghana and Congo. They will go into the tournament as huge underdogs but I really fancy them to cause a huge shock and possibly get that second qualification spot. A lot will depend on them not getting stage fright and to have the belief they can go forward. Their game against Russia will be pivotal to their success and if they can beat the host nation on home soil it will be a huge victory for them and the Confederation from which they are part of.
The fourth team in this group will hope they are not in Russia just to make up the numbers. This is the fifth time they have qualified for the finals and you have to take your hat off to a squad of players who a lot of people would be pushed to name any of the starting eleven. They came through a qualification group that also had Japan, Australia, United Arab Emirates, Iraq and Thailand fighting for just two places, in the end a second place was good enough for them to book their tickets for Russia. During the campaign Nawaf Al Abed scored five goals and this was pivotal to there success. The twenty eight year old is currently playing for Al Hilal and if he has a good campaign he could get himself to a top European side, but only time will tell on that subject. The man in charge of the squad is manager Juan Antonio Pizzi an Argentinian who has played four international games for Spain. They will be a very focussed nation whilst involved in the tournament and we certainly won’t hear of any disruption in their camp, but they will be going home after the group stage in my opinion.
14th June Russia v Saudia Arabia
15th June Egypt v Uruguay
19th June Russia v Egypt
20th June Uruguay v Saudia Arabia
25th June Uruguay v Russia
25th June Saudia Arabia v Egypt
By David Meier