The 2018 World Cup in Russia looks likely to be one of the most competitive tournaments in history, with numerous top nations in with a realistic chance of winning football’s most prestigious prize.
The opening stage of the World Cup features 32 teams split into eight groups of four, with the top two in each qualifying for the knockout rounds.
Hosts Russia have been drawn alongside Uruguay, Egypt and Saudi Arabia in Group A. Read on as we assess each team’s chances of reaching the last 16.
Uruguay are the favourites to win the group after finishing second behind Brazil in the South American qualifiers.
Luis Suarez is a handful up front and he’ll be the key if Uruguay are to progress to the later stages of the World Cup.
Strike partner Edinson Cavani enjoyed a stunning season with Paris Saint-Germain, scoring 40 goals in 48 appearances in all competitions for the club.
Rodrigo Bentancur is one to watch in midfield after impressing with Juventus last term, while Atletico Madrid’s Diego Godin will help to keep things tight at the back and ensure that Uruguay win the group.
Russia were poor at the European Championships in 2016 and the nation will expect much better performances on home soil.
They failed to reach the round of 16 at Brazil 2014, but fervent home support could see them make it out of the group alongside Uruguay.
The host nation are big favourites to win their opening match against Saudi Arabia on June 14 ñ check out Russia v Saudi Arabia World Cup betting before wagering on the outcome.
They have not won a match at a major tournament since Euro 2012 and, since the break-up of the Soviet Union, have not progressed from the World Cup group stage.
Egypt haven’t qualified for the World Cup since 1990. They were runners-up at the 2017 Africa Cup and could surprise a few teams in this group.
Mohamed Salah is undoubtedly their star man after enjoying a stellar season in the Premier League with Liverpool.
However, his participation in Russia is in doubt after he suffered a shoulder injury in the Champions League final against Real Madrid.
Egypt will find it tough to qualify for the next stage without their star man in the starting XI.
Saudi Arabia have failed to win a match in their last three World Cup appearances and it’s difficult to imagine that changing in Russia.
They finished second behind Japan in the qualifiers, but they look banker material to finish bottom of this group.
Nawaf Al-Abed (Al-Hilal) scored five goals in qualification and was his country’s top goalscorer on the road to Russia.
Saudi Arabia’s best result at a World Cup was in 1994 – they reached the last 16, where they were knocked out by Sweden.
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