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World Cup: Everything you need to know about Group A

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The talk around Group A is that it is the weakest group of the competition. There are no superpowers in the group, the highest ranked team is 14th in the world, and two of the other teams are ranked 67th and 70th. This set of circumstances creates a situation in which every country feels as though they have a golden opportunity to advance to the knockout stages. Let’s see how these countries stack up.

Russia:

As the first-time hosts of the World Cup, Russia enters as not only the lowest ranked team in the competition but, the lowest ranked team to have ever participated in a World Cup. As the host country, Russia received free entry into the competition and was not subjugated to the gruelling qualifying stages that every other nation survived. Instead, Russia has relied solely on international friendlies to gauge their match readiness. The results are not convincing. Since 27 March, Russia has played three matches: losing two and drawing the other. Their draw against Turkey last Tuesday extended their winless streak to seven and left fans fearful heading into their World Cup opener on 14 June. For Russia to advance to their first knockout stage ever, their top player Fyodor Smolov will have to convert goals at an extremely high rate. The Krasnodar striker scored 14 league in the Russian Premier League this past season and has 12 career goals for his national team. Don’t be shocked if Russia advances to the knockout round, but don’t count on it either. The most likely scenario is that, due to their home crowd advantage, Russia avoids a last place finish in the group but still fails to advance to the next round. 

Saudi Arabia:

This country has the distinction of being the second worst team in the competition, but has the poorest odds to win the World Cup at 1000/1. During the qualification stages, Saudi Arabia finished second in their group, behind Japan, heavily relying on the goals of  Mohammed Al-Sahlawi. The Saudi striker led the AFC World Cup qualification goal scoring charts with 16 goals and has had staggering efficiency since the start of his national team career. Sahlawi has scored 28 goals in only 39 career matches for his home country, a higher rate than Cristiano Ronaldo has scored for Portugal. Sahlawi’s efforts helped Saudi Arabia qualify for their fifth World Cup and their first since 2006. In their first ever appearance in 1994, they were able to advance to the knockout stages before being eliminated by Sweden. Saudi Arabia’s three other appearances from 1998-2006 saw them bow out in the Group Stages. Besides the prolific Sahlawi, the rest of the roster is bereft of any high-end talent. Due to this, there’s no real reason to think that Saudi Arabia should advance.

Egypt:

This is Mohamed Salah’s time, or so we thought before his latest injury put his World Cup appearance in doubt. The Liverpool winger dazzled the Premier League this past season by scoring a record 32 goals and winning the PFA Players’ Player of the Year Award, but all the focus is on his left shoulder, which was dislocated after a heavy clash with Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos in last month’s Champions League final. Questions still surround the injury, and there hasn’t been any declarations over whether the Egyptian will be fit enough to play in Egypt’s opener against Uruguay on 15 June. Egyptian coach Hector Cuper is optimistic saying hebelieved his star man would be fit. If Salah is unable to play or is not at 100%, Egypt’s chances of advancing to the knockout stage will surely severely diminish. In their history, Egypt have only qualified for the World Cup three times. Their 2018 qualification is their first in 28 years. Many questions surround their superstar winger, but expect Egypt to advance to the knockout stages over the likes of Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Uruguay:

The strong favourites, Uruguay should feel the most confident heading into the group stages. The South American outfit are currently ranked 14th in the world and possess some of the finest players. Luis Suarez, the controversial striker, is coming off another stellar season at Camp Nou in which he scored 25 league goals and assisted 12. Suarez will team up with another world-class striker, Edinson Cavani, to form a deadly front two. The two of them have combined to score 93 goals over their careers in the Uruguayan national team. The veteran squad is bolstered by their sturdy defender and captain Diego Godin, who along with Suarez and Cavani, has been around for multiple World Cup runs. Participating in their 13th World Cup, Uruguay has enjoyed a history of success in the competition. Uruguay won the first ever World Cup in 1930, won it again in 1950, and reached fourth place in 1970 and 2010. This current squad is talented and is one of the tournaments more experinced sides. Suarez, Cavani, and Godin are all in their 30’s and this might be their last opportunity to win the tournament. Uruguay is a strong bet to advance in the group but could have a difficult time advancing further into the knockout stages.

Image rights - Both images from Wikimedia Commons

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