With the 2018 World Cup in Russia kicking off in less than a month, SoccerNews.com is commencing its own series of group predictions where you will be able to find previews of all the teams taking part in this summer’s showpiece tournament, latest team news and best betting odds and suggestions.
As it’s expected – we start with the Group A.
People tend to believe that the host country has a sort of an advantage when playing in front of their own home support but that rarely turns out to be the case with host nations often feeling that extra pressure knowing they need to deliver after not taking part in the qualifying process.
Russia are, of course, slotted in the Group A, alongside Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Uruguay with World Cup set to begin on 14 June when hosts will lock horns with Saudi Arabia.
— Сборная России (@TeamRussia) May 11, 2018
This will be the first time Russia are hosting a World Cup. The sense of excitement was overshadowed by construction problems and fears of fan violence but Russia is out to showcase its true colours and shine at the tournament.
Will its national team follow suit?
Russia qualified as the host nation after underperforming at the 2014 World Cup. Sbornaya headed out in the group stage in Brazil after losing to Belgium and ultimately failing to dispatch the likes of South Korea and Algeria.
The Russians are coming of a couple of rather poor international displays which their Euro 2016 appearance can attest to as well. With pressure piling up on their shoulders, Stanislav Chercheshov’s men will be hoping to impress and put their nation back on the map. Will they succeed? Knowing they failed to record a single win in their last five games, it’s unlikely.
Chercheshov announced a preliminary World Cup squad qhich includes only three players playing outside Russia – Villarreal winger Denis Cheryshev, Fenerbahce defender Roman Neustaedter and Vladimir Gabulov, Club Brugge goalkeeper.
All eyes are on defender Ruslav Kambolov who was investigated by FIFA over alleged doping and on Igor Akinfeev, a goalkeeper with over 100 caps for Russia. Alan Dzagoev of CSKA, Aleksandar Kokorin and Yuri Zhirkov both from Zenit St Petersburg are also the ones to keep an eye on.
— المنتخب السعودي (@SaudiNT) May 17, 2018
Unlikely World Cup participants who earned their Russia visa after finishing second in their qualifying group – behind Japan – are considered the Group A’s underdogs.
Saudi Arabia did well to pip Australia to second-place finish during the qualifiers thanks to a better goal difference and will be extremely motivated heading into the Group Stage of the competition. Pitted against the likes of Russia, Egypt and Uruguay they will be left hoping for a miracle, though.
Saudi Arabia pack a team filled with players who all – bar Levante’s Fahad Al-Muwallad – play within their country. Al-Hilal’s Nawaf Al-Abed is the man to look out for in Saudi Arabia team. He bagged five goals during the wualifiers and was his team’s top scorer on the road to Russia.
— Egypt National Football Team (@Pharaohs) May 16, 2018
Eyes of the world were on Liverpool star Mohamed Salah as the Egyptian scored a 95th-minute penalty against Congo to secure his country’s first World Cup appearance since Italy 1990. On the back of entire nation’s euphoria, the Egyptian national team will be expected to write history in Russia as they look to win their first-ever match at the World Cup finals.
They definitely have a chance to do so and even stun their rivals to a second-place finish which would see them go through to the knockouts. After going through the qualifiers with only one defeat, Mo Salah’s Egypt is definitely a team to keep an eye on.
Mohamed salah is the undisputed star of the team, but Egypt boast a talented squad with quite a few notable players in it such as Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny or Stoke City’s Ramadan Sobhi.
— Selección Uruguaya (@Uruguay) May 15, 2018
Off the back of a strong qualifying campaign which saw them finish second behind Brazil in the South American group, Uruguay have high hopes for Russia. The two-time world champions boast one of the most lethal forward lines in the world with PSG and Barcelona star Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez, respectively, expected to lead the line forward.
They also have a number of top quality players in their squad and are widely expected to top the group A. Oscar Tabarez’s men might not be among the favourites to win the World Cup but with plenty of tournament pedigree they stand as one of the most exciting teams to watch in Russia.
The trio that led Uruguay to 2010 World Cup semi-finals and 2011 Copa America title – Suarez, Cavani, Godin – is still very much the heart and the soul of this team. Juventus starlet Rodrigo Bentancur, Gaston Ramirez and Guillermo Varela offer a variety of colour and vibrance which should make La Celeste the main group favourites.
Group A could end up yielding the tournament’s top scorer and a potential dark horse of the tournament which is why betting on these offer an excitement for all of those looking to find value in less obvious markets.
Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani are all given 25/1 to finish the tournament in Russia as top scorers. Mohamed Salah at 40/1 is an outside bet not exactly worth a risk, knowing that it would be extremely difficult for him to hit the Liverpool form without the same kind of support from the teammates.
Unsurprisingly to some extent, Uruguay are given a nice 9/1 price to make it all the way until the semifinal. Similarly, Russia can be found at 5/2 to end their path in the group stage.
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