WORLD CUP PREVIEW – GROUP A
Russia – The Russians qualified as hosts, the tournament given to them in 2010 under suspicious circumstances. The hosts go in to the tournament as the lowest ranked of any of the 32 teams, largely down to not playing any qualifiers for 2 years.
Saudi Arabia – In the Asia side of qualifying, Saudi Arabia finished 2nd behind Japan and above Australia on goal difference. Qualifying ended with an impressive win over group winners Japan in front of over 62,000 people in Jeddah.
Egypt – Thanks to 5 goals from Liverpool star Mo Salah, Egypt qualified as group winners ahead of Uganda, Ghana and Congo. The highlight for the Egyptians was sealing qualification with a 95th minute Salah penalty against Congo. This will be Egypt’s first World Cup since 1990.
Uruguay – In arguably the most difficult qualifying confederation, where every South American team play each other, Uruguay finished 2nd behind Brazil and ahead of Argentina. Highlights included impressive 3-0 victories over Colombia and Chile. However, they did falter towards the end of qualifying which may not bode well going into the World Cup.
Russia – Igor Akinfeev
Having played over 100 times for his country, Akinfeev goes in to the World Cup as a hero in Russia and captains the side. He has multiple golden glove awards in the Russian league playing for CSKA Moscow. Although he does hold an unwanted record in Champions League games, not keeping a clean sheet in 11 years.
Saudi Arabia – Mohammad Al-Sahlawi
Al Sahlawi became the most expensive player in Saudi domestic football in 2009, joining Al-Nassr for $8m. He has an impressive scoring record for his national side, scoring 28 times in 40 games for Saudi Arabia. He also scored 16 times in qualifying finishing joint top scorer in the Asia side of qualifying.
Egypt – Mohammad Salah
Egypt’s hopes of making it to the knockout stages surely rest on how the Liverpool forward can recover from the injury sustained in the Champions League final. Salah has had an incredible season scoring 44 times for the Merseyside club.
Uruguay – Diego Godin
With Suarez and Cavani in attack, Uruguay should have no problem scoring goals in this group, and they also have one of the world’s best centre backs in Godin. A key player for Atletico Madrid for years, Godin provides Uruguay with a strong back line, partnering with his club team mate Jose Giminez.
1st – Uruguay
On paper, Uruguay have by far the strongest team in the group. With Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani in attack and a strong defence provided by Atletico, progress through the group should be assured. Lack of quality midfield options could be an issue in the latter stages.
2nd – Russia
Russia have been handed a decent draw being the host nation. Especially with Salah’s injury, I would expect home advantage to be enough for Russia to pip Egypt to 2nd place. Will get no further than the 2nd round though.
3rd – Egypt
As has been written before, Egypt’s hopes rest on Salah. I don’t think he will be fully fit though. I do hope he can show up to defeat Russia but I am doubtful.
4th – Saudi Arabia
An unknown quantity to most of the world, I don’t expect anything from the Saudis. They do have a decent attacker in Al-Sahlawi but I can’t see them making it out of the group stage.
Cavani Group top goalscorer – 3/1
Uruguay to win all Group games – 10/3
Uruguay, Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia exact finish – 11/4
– Robert Shiers