So, the World Cup is just days away now and with the global spectacular event almost upon us, let’s have a look at the teams, groups and what might happen in Russia.
Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay
Manager: Stanislav Cherchesov
Captain: Igor Akinfeev
World Ranking: 70
The opening match of the World Cup takes place in the Luzhniki Stadium between Russia and Saudi Arabia. The hosts do have some decent players in CSKA’s Aleksandr Golovin and striker Fedor Smolov, but their ageing defence is a worry. Alan Dzagoev is a threat in midfield, playing in a No.10 position behind the striker but he is generally allowed to roam free around the oppositions half, bringing the ball forward and helping support Smolov, whilst Golovin will help support both as they press the opposition. Golovin is also a good free kick taker.
If the threat of Dzagoev is negated, then Russia will resort to direct play from the centre backs or wing backs. The wide players mainly being the experienced pair of Aleksandr Samedov and former Chelsea player Yuri Zhirkov. If this comes to fruition, then it may well play into the oppositions hands with only Smolov on his own up front to chase the defenders down. This might hand the opposing team the chance to come forward. The lack of goals from strikers Smolov and Artem Dzyuba at international level are a problem and may hinder them from progressing.
Manager: Juan Antonio Pizzi
Captain: Osama Hawsawi
World Ranking: 67
Saudi Arabia boast one of the top goalscorers in the entirety of World Cup qualifying in Mohammad Al-Sahlawi, but they have only made the knockout stage once. I also think they don’t have enough quality in the squad to get beyond either Uruguay or Egypt.
Juan Antonio Pizzi has his work cut out to get through the group and has had little time to prepare as he was only appointed in November. Midfielder Taisir Al Jassim will look to create chances from the heart of midfield, getting forward from a deep position into an attacking midfielder when the Saudis sustain pressure, in a similar role to that of Alan Dzagoev.
Pizzi sets the team up to counter attack. This tactic may seem effective, but they might not have the required quality to be able to progress.
Manager: Óscar Tabárez
Captain: Diego Godin
World Ranking: 14
Uruguay look good bets to finish top of the group, especially with the strike force of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. They also have an influx of talented midfielders such as Matias Vecino, Lucas Torreira, Nahito Nandez, Rodrigo Bentacur and Federico Valverde. Jose Gimenez and Diego Godin form a formidable central defensive partnership and know each other well as they both play for Atletico Madrid.
They have been known to play a direct style of play and look to use Cavani and Suarez’s ability to get in behind the defence. Their quality in attack is almost certain to help them reach the knockout stage, having two goalscorers, not just the one. Central midfielder Bentacur is deployed as a winger and likes to get forward to support the two frontmen. The creative ability of Vecino and Torreira will be crucial into helping them break down teams who like to sit back and absorb pressure like Saudi Arabia. One to watch out for is 21-year-old Celta Vigo forward Maxi Gomez, who scored 17 goals in La Liga last season.
Manager: Héctor Cúper
Captain: Essam El-Hadary
World Ranking: 45
Egypt’s standout player is obviously Mohamed Salah who recently picked up the PFA Player of the Year award for 2018. Sam Morsy has had a great year with Wigan as well and attacking midfielder Abdallah Said scored three goals in qualifying and will supply for the striker, usually Salah or Al Ahly’s Marwan Mohsen.
Mohamed Elneny of Arsenal will be key, helping from a deeper midfield position, eventually getting forward to help support attacks. They should have enough to get through. Essam El-Hadary looks set to beat Faryd Mondragon’s record of becoming the oldest player to play at a World Cup. Salah is currently in a race against time to return for The Pharaohs’ first game, their chances of making it through will be a lot bigger if he can.
Russia 1-1 Saudi Arabia
Egypt 0-2 Uruguay
Uruguay 3-0 Saudi Arabia
Russia 1-1 Egypt
Uruguay 2-1 Russia
Saudi Arabia 0-1 Egypt
1. Uruguay 9 (+6)
2. Egypt 4 (-1)
3. Russia 2 (-1)
4. Saudi Arabia 1 (-4)