Breakdown of Group A in the World Cup - Who Is Likely to Proceed?
Group A of the 2018 World Cup features tournament hosts Russia, along with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Uruguay. While this group has the lowest cumulative world rankings, there is some exciting young talent to observe in each of the four teams. Group A is one of the more open groups in the tournament, with each team in with a fighting chance of progressing to the Round of 16.
Russia are hosts of this year's World Cup, and when it comes to football, you should never discount a home ground advantage. When they launched their bid to host the 2018 World Cup, Russia were performing extremely well, even managing to reach the semi-finals of the hotly contested 2008 European Championship. Things have not been so positive lately, however, with Russia being the lowest ranked of all 32 teams at this year's competition. In fact, Russia have failed to get past the group stage at any major tournament since their 2008 semi-final berth, with this year unlikely to be any different.
From player disputes and shuffling coaches through to off-field antics, the Russian national team have not been in the best place in the lead up to the World Cup. After expensive and time-wasting experiments with foreign coaches such as Fabio Capello and Guus Hiddink, Russia finally settled on the former goalkeeper and defense-minded Stanislav Cherchesov. While the Russian public will get behind their national team, the wider football community will be hoping to avoid the Russian hooligan rampages seen at Euro 2016. All in all, Russia are unlikely to progress to the knockout stages.
Despite their struggles during qualifying, the young Saudi Arabian team could be a minor surprise at Russia 2018. While they're unlikely to worry any of the real contenders, the Green Falcons are in with a small chance of progressing. The opening game of the entire tournament sees Saudi Arabia up against host nation Russia, in what is likely to be a dour affair. If they can get past that one, the Saudis will have to face much tougher games against Uruguay and Egypt.
If they are to progress, Saudi Arabia will have to do something they haven't managed in 24 years. Despite qualifying for France 98, South Korea 02, and Germany 06, the Green Falcons seem to be destined to stay in the group stage. Preparations for Russia have not been ideal, however, with two coaches fired in the lead up and new coach Juan Antonio Pizzi only recently brought on-board. Mohammad Al-Sahlawi will need to be at his best if Saudi Arabia are in with any chance, with the striker having scored 16 goals during qualifying.
The young Egyptian side looked promising in the lead up to Russia, with their attack spearheaded by one of the Premier League’s most in-form players, Mohamed Salah. Salah has been compared to a young Lionel Messi on more than one occasion, and this World Cup will give him a chance to show what he's really made of. Egypt has waited a long time to be back at the World Cup Finals, with the seven-time African champions last qualifying back in 1990.
Despite their long and successful history at the African Cup of Nations, Egypt failed to qualify for the tournament between 2012 and 2015. While you might think that this would put them out of contention in Russia, their arc is definitely rising and their young star Salah really is something special. Egypt reached the final of the 2017 African Cup of Nations and have a great chance to progress to the Round of 16 this year in Russia. If selected to play, 45-year-old goalkeeper Essam el-Hadary will become the oldest person to play in a World Cup match.
South American giants Uruguay will start as Group A favourites, with their solid qualifying experience only bettered by neighbours Brazil. Despite ageing stars and loss of talent due to retirement, the Uruguay team is packed with goal-scoring talent. Spearheaded by Barcelona's Luis Suarez and Paris Saint-Germain's Edinson Cavani, this team has more power up front than many others combined. Suarez scored 33 goals for Barcelona this season. Cavani was the top goalscorer during South American qualification with 10 goals in 18 matches.
With youngsters like Federico Valverde and Nahitan Nandez also finding form, and defender Diego Godin still striking fear into the minds of attackers, Uruguay are still a force to be reckoned with. Oscar Tabarez will coach Uruguay for his fourth World Cup, with the 70-year-old calling the shots from a wheelchair since he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome in 2016. While Group A is one of the most open groups at Russia 2018, Uruguay are very likely to take out the top spot.