Impact 2018 World Cup preview: Salah, hosts headline Group A

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Impact Sports’ preview of the 2018 World Cup kicks off (pun intended) with a look at Group A. Each day, we’ll take a look at the groups and knockout stages ahead of the June 14 opener in Moscow.

Group A is one of the weaker groups in this year’s World Cup. Host nation Russia is joined by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Uruguay. The South Americans are the only traditional powerhouse of the four teams, having won two World Cups. However, the perceived weakness of this group leaves it wide open for any of the four teams to advance.  

Egypt (FIFA ranking: 46)

Overview: This is Egypt’s first World Cup appearance since Italy 1990, where they finished with two points and failed to advance. Egypt will rely heavily on Ballon D’Or hopeful Mohamed Salah to carry them out of the group stages. Also, Salah has only recently been cleared to play for Egypt in the World Cup after he sustained an injury against Real Madrid in the Champions League final. However, Egypt still have established stars who should not be overlooked. Ahmed Heghazi and Mohamed Elneny are Premier League regulars who help make up the central spine for Egypt.

Star player: Winger Mohamed Salah, Liverpool (England)

Egypt will go as far as Salah can carry them, it is that simple. He is as important to Egypt is as Cristiano Ronaldo is for Portugal and Lionel Messi is for Argentina. Because of that, Salah is going to have to score goals and create for others if Egypt want to make the World Cup a memorable one, and he has the ability to do so.     

Biggest question: Will Egypt’s supporting cast do enough?

Everyone knows about Salah. He scored 44 goals in all competitions for Liverpool in the 2017-18 season. He’ll get all the attention from the media and the players on the opposition. It is crucial for someone else on Egypt’s roster to have a great World Cup to take some of the pressure off Salah. Out of the aforementioned Sobhi, Mahmoud Hassan, Ahmed Hassan or Essam El-Hadard, one will have to step up to take the pressure off Salah.     

Best-case scenario: Egypt use Salah’s sparkling form to get them out of the groups stages for the first time and into the round of 16.

Russia (FIFA ranking: 66)

Overview: The host-nation always has a lot of pressure to succeed at their World Cup. In 2014, Brazil reached the semifinals where they were decimated by Germany 7-1. Russia likely will not make it to the semifinals. However, they should be confident in making to the round of 16 with the group they were drawn in. Russia’s 23-man roster is made up of seasoned veterans who are making their second or third appearance in major international competitions.  

Star player: Central midfielder Alan Dzagoev, CSKA Moscow (Russia)

Dzagoev plays an important position for Russia. He normally takes the ball from midfield and drives it forward to the attack. And if he is on his game, then Russia will be on their game. Dzagoev might not necessarily have to score all the goals, but he needs to directly influence them with his build-up play.  

Biggest question: Is there enough flair and skill to match the experience?

Russia is a very strong side. But there are few players on their team that offer anything extra. It is very much ‘what you see is what you get’. This is why it is vital for Dzagoev and winger Denis Cheryshev to add a little flair to Russia’s play.   

Best-case scenario: Russia handles the pressure of being the host-nation and make it out of the group stage to the round of 16.    

Saudi Arabia (FIFA ranking: 67)

Overview: Saudi Arabia makes their return to the World Cup after missing out on the last two. Even though they have more World Cup appearances than Egypt, they are still the weakest team in Group A. Playing the host-nation for the opening match is always difficult. Saudi Arabia then plays against group-favorites Uruguay in their second match, and the all-important third match against Egypt could decide the second team to advance out of Group A.

Star player: Striker Mohammed Al-Sahlawi, Al-Nassr (Saudi Arabia)

This was a tough call. Not because Saudi Arabia have a plethora of stars, but because they have a squad of unknown players. However, Al-Sahlawi has 28 career goals for Saudi Arabia, and they’re going to need goals to get out of the group stage. Al-Sahlawi is described as a hard working striker who takes advantage of the few chances he gets, and for Saudi Arabia, that is exactly what they need in a striker.   

Biggest question: Who will become the star player for Saudi Arabia?

Saudi Arabia has a togetherness and strong team mentality. But there is not really one player among them who can step up into the spotlight and handle the pressure. Egypt have Salah, Russia have Dzagoev and Uruguay have Suarez, but Saudi Arabia do not really have anyone.  

Best-case scenario: To make each match a scrap and maybe come away with a few points in the process.  

Uruguay (FIFA ranking: 17)

Overview: Seen as the favorites in Group A, Uruguay have the most star power and highest pedigree in this group. The two-time World Cup winners have an experienced team. Atletico Madrid teammates Diego Godin and Jose Maria Gimenez are rocks in the center of Uruguay’s defence. While the attack is led by the lethal duo of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. Much like Russia, this Uruguay team has plenty of experience in big tournaments.  

Star player: Center-back Diego Godin, Atletico Madrid (Spain)

Some might feel that Suarez belongs in this spot, but Godin is much more important. Uruguay’s captain is an absolute rock in defense and rarely misses any time because of injury or suspension. Godin will be key to making sure Uruguay is focused and prepared for what they might think is an easy group.  

Biggest question: Will Rodrigo Bentancur and Matias Vecino gel in time?

The strength of Uruguay lies in their central defence and strikers. Bentancur of Juventus and Vecino of Inter Milan will likely play together in central midfield. Since Uruguay usually plays a 4-4-2 formation, they will be the only central midfielders. That means they will have the ever-important job of connecting the defence to the attack. Suarez and Cavani can bang in the goals if you give them the service. It will fall onto Bentancur and Vecino to get them that service.     

Best-case scenario: Suarez and Cavani form an almost unstoppable partnership as they lead Uruguay to the semifinals.   

Predictions

  1. Uruguay 6 pts
  2. Egypt 5 pts
  3. Russia 4 pts
  4. Saudi Arabia 1 pt

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