FIFA World Cup 2018: Uruguay favourites to top Group A, Egypt close second
Uruguay, who are two-time FIFA World Cup champions, look primed to make it to next round; but the onus is on Russia to better their 2014 show as Saudi Arabia look the weakest team.football Updated: Jun 05, 2018 10:56 IST
When the draw for the FIFA World Cup 2018 was made in December last year, Russia, Uruguay, Egypt and Saudi Arabia were fairly satisfied to have drawn each other in Group A. (FIFA WORLD CUP 2018 FULL SCHEDULE)
Mohamed Salah would have been, and may still be, the star attraction in Group A but his shoulder dislocation in the Champions League final means Egypt may have to do without their star forward for one or more games in the group stage. Without Salah, Egypt lack a potent threat.
The experienced Ahmed Fathy continues to be a mainstay in defence with 45-year-old skipper Essam El-Hadary set to start in goal.
Arsenal midfielder Mohamed Elneny will have a major role to play in the middle of the park but the team will require Braga forward Kouka to step up in the event of a Salah no-show.
Russia are a shadow of the side that reached the European Championship semi-finals 10 years back and are arguably weaker than the team that failed to progress past the group stage in 2014.
CSKA Moscow’s goalkeeping stalwart Igor Akinfeev is set to lead the team while veteran Sergei Ignashevich returns to a backline that has failed to impress after a string of retirements.
Coach Stanislav Cherchesov will bank on Alan Dzagoev for some creativity from the middle, while Krasnodar forward Fyodor Smolov is expected to be the first-choice forward.
Two-time champions Uruguay are the most decorated of the four teams. With Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani upfront, coach Oscar Tabarez has a lethal strike force at his disposal.
Uruguay also boast of a strong backline led by Diego Godin and a midfield that has a good mix of experience and youth, making them overwhelming favourites to win the group.
Saudi Arabia look the weakest team on paper in this group. Three managerial changes within the last year haven’t helped the Saudis and Juan Antonio Pizzi will have a difficult task against three stronger teams.
They are heavily dependent on forward Mohammad Al-Sahlawi while wingers Fahad Al-Muwallad and Yahya Al-Shehri are also threats going forward.
Led by experienced defender Osama Hawsawi, Saudi Arabia’s players are all home based, albeit nine of them have trained with La Liga sides and also managed some game time in loan deals.