Well, the time is upon us. The World Cup is less than 10 days away, and we’re gearing up for the first matches in Group A. To be honest, this is the least exciting group in the tournament. But that doesn’t mean there may not be some big storylines.
Who’s in Group A?
Group A consists of host nation Russia, Uruguay, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. I know. That screams group of death…HA! I kid, I kid.
In reality, this is the easiest group in modern history. I won’t bore you with too much detail, but if you’re interested take a look at that breakdown by FiveThirtyEight. Essentially what it boils down to is Russia being the host nation. Because of this, they were slotted into Pot 1. That allowed them to avoid Germany, Brazil, Spain, etc. That gives it a little more of an interesting feel, and the only TRUE test for them will be Uruguay. Or Egypt if Salah is healthy, but we’ll get to that.
I’ve already had a lot to say about the state of the host nation. The National Team isn’t quite a set of fighters on par with their fans, though. A lot of people think they’re going to finish second in the group, which is possible, but I don’t think they get out of it. If Salah is healthy. More on that shortly…
They have a solid enough keeper in Akinfeev (pictured above), who has over 100 caps and has captained the squad for the past 15 months. However the whole of their team doesn’t strike fear into an attacker. At least not in the same way their fans like torches and attack each other. Then again, that would probably be more intimidating than any team vying for a spot in the final in Moscow. I digress…
They’re not getting through. Which is a blow for a host nation. Unless there’s some match fixing…
The Uruguayans are the theoretical powerhouse of this group. They have solid experience. No team wants the likes of Luis “take a bite out of someone” Suarez and Edinson Cavani running at them. Diego Godin will wear the Captain’s armband. They’ll be tough. They have a fortified defense and have the ability to strike quickly.
Cavani led all of CONMEBOL with 10 goals in qualifying, and that bodes well. After finishing second in their region, and getting the best draw they possibly could have. Ultimately, I think they draw Egypt, beat Russia, and beat Saudi Arabia on their way to winning the group.
Mo Salah. Have I mentioned him? The Egyptians are adamant that he will be healthy, which is going to be necessary for match day 1. He scored over 40 goals for his club, and could have led Liverpool to a champions league victory had he not lost his scuffle with Sergio Ramos.
The Pharaohs will meet Uruguay for the first match, and need at least a point in order to keep themselves alive early. If Mo is not able to play in the first match things could get dicey. They also have a 45-year-old keeper in Essam El-Hadary. The biggest question around El-Hadary is whether he will show his age or experience. Only time will tell.
Egypt is a dark horse. Many think Russia is a sure thing, and Uruguay will be the other Group A participant to make their way to the knockout stages. I think they’ll leapfrog the hosts and sneak into the final 16.
Mohammad Al-Sahlawi is a solid striker. Solid enough that he was invited to train for a few weeks with Manchester United. He’s scored 28 goals in 39 international appearances. But he’s a solid striker on the worst team in the World Cup. It’s interesting that they fell into the worst group as well.
Their other Group A opponents should trample them, but I have a strange feeling they’re going to put up a fight. With Salah, Egypt tramples them. Without him, it could go either way. Uruguay will run over them. But I have this glorious thought in my mind of Saudi Arabia waltzing into Moscow on the 14th and coming out with a result. It’s highly unlikely, but a boy can dream.
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