World Cup Preview - Group A
FIFA World Ranking: 66th
World Cup Appearances:10 Best Finish: Last 16; Mexico 1986.
Possible XI:(4-2-3-1) Akinfeev (GK), Zhirkov (LB), Granat (CB), Kudryashov (CB), Smolnikov (RB), Zobnin (CDM), Gazinskiy (CDM), Dzagoev (RAM), Miranchuk (CM), Golovin (LAM), Smolov (ST)
Stanislav Cherchesov (RUS) Age: 54
A former goalkeeper for Spartak Moscow, Cherchesov won four league titles as well as representing Russia (49 caps) at two World Cups and two European Championships. His honours at managerial level came in Poland with Legia Warsaw winning a domestic double. He has also coached Russian Premier League sides including Spartak and Dinamo Moscow. Know to be a disciplinarian and a coach who likes to use youth in his sides, something Russia have needed for years.
Fyodor Smolov (30 caps / 12 goals) Age 28
Having had a considerable quiet start to his career spanning 4 different clubs such as Dinamo Moscow, Feyenoord, Anzhi, and Ural, appearing 119 times and scoring only 13 goals. Since his move to Krasnodar in 2015 he has become Russia’s most potent striker scoring an impressive 52 goals in 73 games winning the Russian Premier League golden boot twice in 2015 and 2016
Igor Akinfeev (104 caps) Age 32
Arguably one of the best goalkeepers in Europe currently not playing in one of the continents ‘big five’ leagues, the veteran Russian goes into his second World Cup having competed in Brazil 2014. A CSKA legend, having spent his whole career there and winning 6 Russian Premier League titles, 6 Russian Cups, and the UEFA Cup in 2005. Susceptible to the odd clanger but makes up for it with some great saves.
WATCH OUT FOR...
Aleksandr Golovin (17 caps / 2 goals) Age 21
A 21-year old midfielder who is considered Russia’s rising young star. Technically astute, and is quick on the turn, he was impressive during CSKA’s Europa League campaign this season, even scoring a free kick against Arsenal in the quarter finals.
Russia have suffered badly with injuries to important players leading up the World Cup, Viktor Vain and Georgi Dzhikiya and a crocked Aleksandr Kokorin has led to Cherchesov to recall Artem Dzyuba to the national side. The retirements of veteran twins Aleksi and Vasili Berezutski meaning there will be a different look to the defensive line. With so many setbacks to important players it is not inconceivable that Russia could become only the second hosts of a World Cup not to make it out of the group stage, they have to make the most of home advantage to get as far as they can into the tournament.
Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow), Vladimir Gabulov (Club Brugge), Andrey Lunev (Zenit St Petersburg).
Vladimir Granat, Fedor Kudryashov (both Rubin Kazan), Ilya Kutepov (Spartak Moscow), Andrey Semenov (Akhmat Grozny), Sergei Ignashevich, Mario Fernandes (both CSKA Moscow), Igor Smolnikov (Zenit St Petersburg).
Yuri Gazinskiy (Krasnodar), Aleksandr Golovin, Alan Dzagoev (both CSKA Moscow), Aleksandr Erokhin, Yuri Zhirkov, Daler Kuzyaev (all Zenit St Petersburg), Roman Zobnin, Aleksandr Samedov (both Spartak Moscow), Anton Miranchuk (Lokomotiv Moscow), Denis Cheryshev (Villarreal).
Artem Dzyuba (Arsenal Tula), Aleksey Miranchuk (Lokomotiv Moscow), Fedor Smolov (Krasnodar).
FIFA World Ranking: 67th
World Cup Appearances: 4 Best Finish: Last 16; USA 1994.
Possible XI: (4-2-3-1) Al Mosailem (GK), Al Harbi (LB), M Hawsawi (CB), Osama Hawsawi (CB), Al Shahrani (RB), Al Jassim (CM), Otayf (CM), Al Muwallad (LM), Al Shehri (CAM), Al Dawsari, (RM) Al Sahlawi (ST)
Juan Antonio Pizzi (ARG) Age: 49
Pizzi was recruited in November 2017 following an unsuccessful South American World Cup qualifying campaign with Chile and is Saudi Arabia’s 3rd manager since qualifying for the World Cup after the departures of Bert van Marwijk and Edgardo Bauza (he barley lasted 3 months in the job). Argentine born, he represented Spain (22 caps) at Euro 96 in England and World Cup France 98, as an international manager he won Copa America 2016 with Chile and will take Saudi Arabia to Russia having not managed them in a competitive match.
Osama Hawsawi (132 caps / 7 goals) Age 34
Plays his club football with Saudi club Al-Hilal and won the league title for the third time with them, most recently in 2017. The 34-year old veteran centre back is the most capped player in the squad with 132 appearances making his debut soon after the last time Saudi Arabia made a World Cup back in 2006. As with any ageing player he has lost some pace but are likely to sit back against stronger opposition. He is the leader of the side and an important player in defence.
Mohammad Al-Sahlawi (37 caps / 28 goals) Age 31
Al Nassr striker who has a scoring record of 102 goals in 172 games for his club, also has an impressive record at international level too netting 28 times. He is the key to the 'Green Falcons' up front and will most likely play as a lone striker. Spent some weeks in March training with Manchester United in preparation for the World Cup.
WATCH OUR FOR...
Fahad Al-Muwallad (41 caps / 10 goals) Age 23
The team’s youngest and most exciting prospect in the squad the Al-Ittihad winger, capped 41 times scoring 10 goals, will be as important as Al-Sahlawi in attack if they want to have any chance of scoring goals in Russia. Sent on loan to Levante in La Liga during the January transfer window, but failed to make a single appearance for them.
No one will expect them to qualify from the group as they are the lowest ranked team in the tournament and matters aren’t helped by Pizzi’s short time as manager. Things got slightly more complicated for some of their star players when they were sent to Spain to play in La Liga as part of deal with the Saudi General Sports Authority with the expectation that these players would get some playing time and exposure in Spain’s top division. Nine Saudi players were sent to 7 Spanish clubs on loan, not a single appearance has been made between them apart from a 33 minute cameo from Salem Al-Dawsari for Villarreal. Although not possessing a huge array of talent they play to their strengths and will be defensive in their approach during the World Cup, hoping to catch teams on the counter or set piece.
Mohammed Al Owais, Yasser Al-Mosailem (both Al Ahli), Abdullah Al-Mayoof (Al Hilal).
Mansour Al-Harbi (Al Ahli), Yasir Al Shahrani, Mohammed Alburyak (both Al Hilal), Motaz Hawsawi (Al Ahli), Osama Hawsawi (Al Hilal), Omar Othman (Al Nassr), Ali Albulayhi (Al Hilal).
Abdullah Alkhaibari (Al Shabab), Abdulmalek Al Khaibri, Abdullah Ateef (both Al Hilal), Taiseer Al Jassam, Hussain Al-Mogahwi (both Al Ahli), Salman Al Faraj, Mohamed Kanno (both Al Hilal), Hatan Bahebri (Al Shabab), Salem Al Dawsari (Al Hilal), Yahya Al Shehri (Al Nassr).
Mohammed Al Sahlawi (Al Nassr), Mohannad Aseri (Al Ahli), Fahad Al Muwallad (Al Ittihad).
FIFA World Ranking: 46th
World Cup Appearances: 2
Best Finish:1st Rd/Group Stage; Uruguay 1934 & Italy 1990
Possible XI: (4-2-3-1) El-Shenawy (GK), Shafy (LB), Gabr (CB), Hegazi (CB), Fathi (RB), Elneny (CDM), Hamed (CDM), Sobhi (LW), Said (CAM), Salah (RW), Mohsen (ST)
Hector Cuper (ARG) Age: 62
An experienced coach who took Mallorca to a Copa Del Rey and European Cup Winners Cup Final in 1997, and then Valencia to two Champions League Finals at the turn of the century. He took over Internazionale soon after with less success. He’s a tactician who has got the best out of this Egyptian team playing to their defensive strengths as well as making the most of his prize assist Mo Salah.
Abdallah Said (33 caps / 6 goals) Age 32
The versatile midfielder currently on loan to Finnish club Kuopion Palloseura is a key man in Hector Cuper’s tactical plans and has been known to use the 32-year old in attacking roles but isn’t afraid to drop deeper. Egypt got into the finals by a last gasp penalty kick and having to play strategically against different types of opposition outside of their own continent, Said will play an important role in doing that.
Ramadan Sobhi (21 caps / 1 goal) Age 21
Sobhi made his national team debut against Tanzania on June 14, 2015 and became the second youngest player to ever play for the Egyptian national team after Mido. He scored his first international goal in March 2017 in the Africa Cup of Nations qualification game against Nigeria. A tricky winger, who only made 12 starts for Stoke City last season, but he has plenty of ability and will be vital part of Egypt’s attack this summer.
WATCH OUT FOR...
Mo Salah (57 caps / 33 goals) Age 25
I would normally reserve this section for a young player or someone whose name you may not have heard of now but will in Russia. Well such has been the impact of Mohammed Salah for club and country over the last 12 months that he is definitely a player you need to ‘watch out for’. The Egyptian has had a remarkable season with Liverpool scoring 32 league goals and winning the Premier League Golden Boot, as well as the best player award. Add to that his God like status in his home country, especially as it was down to him in the 94th minute of the last game of the qualifying campaign, to score a last gasp penalty and send them to Russia. Injured in the Champions League Final in May, it will be touch and go how much involvement he will have in the group stage. He has great technique, pace, vision, and the best left foot in world football (after Lionel Messi of course).
What Hector Cuper has done to get Egypt to the World Cup is nothing short of amazing, using the squad's strengths to their advantage he got them through qualification with a lot of hard work and the players are more than happy to fight for the cause. This will be very important as many see Group A as the weakest of the competition and Egypt will fancy themselves against Saudi Arabia. A victory against either Russia or Uruguay isn’t inconceivable but much will depend on their star man Mohammed Salah, his importance to the team cannot be understated.
Essam El Hadary (Al Taawoun), Mohamed El-Shenawy, Sherif Ekramy (both Al Ahly).
Ahmed Fathi, Saad Samir, Ayman Ashraf (all Al Ahly), Mahmoud Hamdi (Zamalek), Mohamed Shafy (Al Fateh), Ahmed Hegazi (West Brom), Ali Gabr (Zamalek), Ahmed Elmohamady (Aston Villa), Omar Gaber (Los Angeles FC).
Tarek Hamed, (Zamalek), Abdallah El Said (Al Ahli), Sam Morsy (Wigan Athletic), Mohamed Elneny (Arsenal), Ramadan Sobhi (Stoke City), Mahmoud 'Trezeguet' Hassan (Kasimpasa).
Mohamed Salah (Liverpool), Marwan Mohsen (Al Ahly), Mahmoud Shikabala (Zamalek), Amr Warda (Atromitos), Mahmoud Kahraba (Al Ittihad).
FIFA World Ranking: 17th
World Cup Appearances:12
Best Finish: (2) Winners;Uruguay 1930 & Brazil 1950.
Possible XI: (4-4-1-1) Muslera (GK), Laxalt (LB),Gimenez (CB), Godin (CB), Varela (RB), Vecino (CDM), Valverde (CM), Betancur (LM), Nandez (RM), Suarez (SS) Cavani (ST)
Oscar Tabarez (URU) Age: 71
What else can be said about, El Maestro, a man that has managed his country over 12 years, coaching them in a record number of international games, taking them to the semi-finals of a World Cup in 2010 and then lifting the Copa America only 12 months later. Currently suffering from a rare and serious autoimmune disorder Guillain-Barre Syndrome, Tabarez is often seen with crutches or a wheelchair these days but that hasn’t hindered his enthusiasm and goes into his 4th World Cup Finals with Uruguay.
Luis Suarez (97 caps / 50 goals) Age 31
One of the world’s best number 9’s in present day, Luis Suarez will participate in his 3rd World Cup Finals and possibly his last, he will no doubt leave a mark on the tournament one way or another. Never far from controversy, his first World Cup in 2010 we saw him sent off for deliberate handball on the goal line in 120th minute of a quarter final game against Ghana, and then further shenanigans when he took a bite from Italian defender Giorgo Chielini in 2014. He has only scored 3 goals for Uruguay since the start of 2017 but his form for club is fantastic as always, 25 goals in 32 games in La Liga.
Edison Cavani (100 caps / 42 goals) Age 31
The PSG front man broke his club’s goal scoring record by becoming the Parisian side’s top marksmen in January 2018 when he netted his 157th goal, helping seal his 4th Ligue 1 title since his arrival in France. He played an important part in qualification for country too, his 10 goals insuring a 2nd place finish in the South American table. Part of the 2010 World Cup squad, he will want to improve on that year’s semi-final placing by leading his team to the Luzhniki Stadium on the 15th July.
WATCH OUT FOR...
Lucas Torreira (2 caps / 0 goals) Age 22
At 5ft 6 you wouldn’t think Torreira is suited to a defensive midfield role, his frame and look doesn't stick out as the lynchpin of a tough Uruguayan side. Stints at Pescara and Sampdoria say otherwise and the combative ball winner now see himself on the plane to Russia thanks to a good Serie A season and shown maturity while with the national side since he made his debut at the China Cup a mere three months ago. It has been speculated he could move clubs this summer with Napoli and Arsenal showing interest in him with a fee of £25m + being muted. He is good on the ball with good passing abilities, despite the fact he only has two caps to his name, we could see him as a starter in the group stages.
A third of the players going to Russia were there in South Africa 8 years ago and this will be the last chance for that generation, including the manager, to lift the World Cup. Despite not being favourite to do so no one will want to face the Uruguayans, they are never easy to beat as they are solid in defense and very dangerous in attack, complacency may be their downfall. I expect them to get out of their group and at least reach the last 16.
Fernando Muslera (Galatasaray), Martin Silva (Vasco da Gama), Martin Campana (Independiente).
Diego Godin, Jose Maria Gimenez (both Atletico Madrid), Sebastian Coates (Sporting Lisbon), Maximiliano Pereira (Porto), Gaston Silva (Independiente), Martin Caceres (Lazio), Guillermo Varela (Penarol).
Nahitan Nandez (Boca Juniors), Lucas Torreira (Sampdoria), Matias Vecino (Inter Milan), Rodrigo Bentancur (Juventus), Carlos Sanchez (Monterrey), Giorgian de Arrascaeta (Cruzeiro), Diego Laxalt (Genoa), Cristian Rodriguez (Penarol), Jonathan Urretaviscaya (Monterrey).
Cristhian Stuani (Girona), Maximiliano Gomez (Celta Vigo), Edinson Cavani (Paris St-Germain), Luis Suarez (Barcelona).