World Cup 2018: Group A analysis

The 2018 FIFA World Cup field is finally set, as the groups were drawn during a star-studded event watched around the world. The national teams were split into four pots based on their FIFA ranking, a new procedure at the draw. The teams in pot one were the highest ranking, pot four the lowest. The eight teams in pot one are to occupy the top spot in each group, teams in pot two the second spot, and so on.  The top 32 teams will kick off in June, as Russia prepares to host the World Cup for the first time.

Here is a look at the Final Draw Results:

We’re going to break down every group ahead of the tournament, starting with Group A. Host nation Russia received an automatic bid and were handed a favorable draw landing Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Uruguay. Group A have the lowest combined FIFA ranking, with Russia, who is 65th in the world – the lowest seed at 2018 World Cup – followed by Saudi Arabia ranked 63rd, Egypt 31st, and lastly Uruguay who are 21st in the world.

Group A Matches:

June 14th, 2018: Russia v Saudi Arabia in Moscow

June 15: Egypt v Uruguay in Ekaterinburg

June 19: Russia v Egypt in St Petersburg

June 20: Uruguay v Saudi Arabia in Rostov-on-Don

June 25: Uruguay v Russia in Samara and Saudi Arabia v Egypt in Volgograd

Russia should be happy with their draw and fortunate to land Saudi Arabia as their opening match. The two worst teams based on the FIFA rankings will get the tournament started in Moscow on June 15th, with all eyes on the host. Their key player is Igor Akinfeev, who plays for CSKA Moscow in the Russian league. The talented goalkeeper is their captain and will find himself with a massive task during the group stage.

Securing one of the easiest opponents, they can be confident heading into the opener and likely to secure a victory, which could save the host nation some embarrassment of losing their first game. While Russia will probably earn a victory in front of their home supporters, it won’t be enough to get out of their group as Uruguay and Egypt are stronger teams.

Uruguay booked their ticket to the World Cup after finishing in second place behind Brazil during the South American qualifiers. La Celeste are managed by Óscar Tabárez, who is making his fourth World Cup appearance. The squad has no shortage of firing power with superstars like Edinson Cavani, who scored ten goals in the qualifiers and Barcelona goal-machine Luis Suárez. Defender Diego Godín will be the key man in their defense and likely to face some of the best strikers in the world as the team progresses through the tournament. They are the favorites to win Group A and should feel comfortable after receiving the easiest group compared to their South American rivals.

Their biggest challenge will come from Egypt, who will be relying on Mohamed Salah to get them through the group. The Liverpool striker is in top form in the Premier League, recently winning the PFA Fans’ Player of the month award for November. Salah’s penalty secured their first qualification since 1990 and sparked mass celebrations throughout the country. They are managed by Héctor Cúper, an Argentine who focuses on defense first and counterattacks when possible. Despite Egypt never winning a World Cup match, the team should feel confident ahead of this summer.

Saudi Arabia qualified for the first time since 2006, reaching their fifth World Cup. It was a difficult journey throughout the qualifiers, firing two coaches along the way. Mohammed Al-Sahlawi is their star player, and their most instrumental player, scoring 16 goals during the qualifiers. Despite reaching the World Cup, the team will likely lose all three matches and return home failing on the world stage.

While Russia couldn’t have asked for a better group, the team is far inferior and will likely join South Africa as the second host nations to exit at the group stage.

Prediction: Uruguay will top the group, Egypt will finish second while Russia and Saudi Arabia miss out on the Round of 16.

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