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FIFA 2018 WORLD CUP: GROUP A OVERVIEW

WALK LIKE THE EGYPTIANS

EGYPT

Coach: Hector Cuper
Captain: Essam El Hadary
Nickname: The Pharoahs
Kit: Home – red, black and white; Away – to be confirmed
Cup Best Record: First round 1934, 1990

Squad
Goalkeepers: Essam El-Hadary (Al Taawoun), Mohamed El-Shennawy (Al Ahly), Sherif Ekramy (Al Ahly), Mohamed Awad (Ismaily)

Defenders: Ahmed Fathi (Al Ahly), Saad Samir (Al Ahly), Ayman Ashraf (Al Ahly), Mahmoud Hamdy (Zamalek), Mohamed Abdel-Shafy (Al Fath) Ahmed Hegazi (West Brom), Ali Gabr (West Brom), Ahmed Elmohamady (Aston Villa), Karim Hafez (RC Lens), Omar Gaber (LAFC), Amro Tarek (Orlando City)

Midfielders: Tarek Hamed (Zamalek), Mahmoud Abdel Aziz (Zamalek), Shikabala (Al Raed), Abdallah Said (KuPS), Sam Morsy (Wigan), Mohamed Elneny (Arsenal), Kahraba (Ittihad), Ramadan Sobhi (Stoke City), Mahmoud “Trezeguet” Hassan (Kasimpasa), Amr Warda (Atromitos)

Forwards: Marwan Mohsen (Al Ahly), Ahmed Gomaa (Al Masry) Ahmed “Koka” Mahgoub (SC Braga), Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)

(Teams have until June 4 to finalise the 23 man squad)

Road to World Cup: This will only be Egypt’s first appearance in the final and the first since 1990.
They qualified tops from the qualifying group that African giants Ghana were favoured to qualify from.

A shock away defeat to Uganda was the only blemish for Egypt in the qualifiers. They not only defeated Uganda at home in the return match, but also bested both Ghana and Congo-Brazzaville in their other matches to stamp their superiority.

The Egyptians come into the World Cup as runners-up to Cameroon in the latest edition of the African Nations Cup.

Player to watch:
MOHAMED SALAH
Date of Birth: June 15, 1992 (age 25 years)
Place of Birth: Nagrig, Egypt
Height: 1.75m
Club: Liverpool FC (#11 / Forward)

Dubbed “Egyptian Messi” Mohamed Salah is undoubtedly the player who has made the biggest impact in the English Premier League this season.

The shoulder injury he picked up during the Champions League Final last month is likely to see him starting from the bench, perhaps even missing some matches.

His consistent match winning performances for Roma and now for Liverpool makes him one of the most prolific strikers in the world alongside the likes of Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

He was the top scorer in the African World Cup qualifiers and has his exploits at the club level puts him in good stead for a golden debut at the Finals.

He has already amassed an impressive 33 goals in only 57 international appearances for Egypt since making his debut in 2011.

Team assessment:
Even the best of defences will have their hands full with the pace and flair of a fully fit Mo Salah. Egypt’s rivals in Group A will have to come up with special plans to curtail the versatile and nippy forward.

Salah is not only their strong point but also the biggest weakness for the Pharoahs.

The team is centered around the Liverpool goal poacher and will have to break away from the one-man team tag.

It will be easier said than done. If Salah has an off-day or is successfully neutralised by their opponents, the Egyptian game may turn out to be an anti-climax. This is especially significant considering his injury.

Injury concern’s to Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny is also a big worry for the African side. Elneny’s strong presence in the midfield would be vital for Salah to be effective upfront.

While they will have their hands full against the experienced Uruguay side in the opening match, Egypt can take comfort in that they have been drawn against perhaps the two lowest ranked teams – Russia and Saudi Arabia- in their group.

HOST WITH HOPE

RUSSIA
Coach: Stanislav Cherchesov
Captain: Igor Akinfeev
Nickname: Sbornaya
Kit: Home – red and white; Away – white and blue
Cup Best Record: First round 1994, 2002, 2014 (Soviet Union finished fourth in 1966)

Squad
Goalkeepers: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow), Vladimir Gabulov (Brugge), Soslan Dzhanaev (Rubin Kazan), Andrei Lunev (Zenit St. Petersburg)

Defenders: Vladimir Granat (Rubin Kazan), Ruslan Kambolov (Rubin Kazan), Fedor Kudryashov (Rubin Kazan), Ilya Kutepov (Spartak Moscow), Roman Neustadter (Fenerbahce), Konstantin Rausch (Dynamo Moscow), Andrei Semenov (Akhmat Grozny), Igor Smolnikov (Zenit St. Petersburg), Mario Fernandes (CSKA Moscow), Sergei Ignashevich (CSKA Moscow)

Midfielders: Yuri Gazinsky (Krasnodar), Alexander Golovin (CSKA Moscow), Alan Dzagoev (CSKA Moscow), Alexander Erokhin (Zenit), Yuri Zhirkov (Zenit), Daler Kuzyaev (Zenit), Roman Zobnin (Spartak Moscow), Alexander Samedov (Spartak Moscow), Anton Miranchuk (Lokomotiv Moscow), Alexander Tashaev (Dynamo Moscow), Denis Cheryshev (Villareal)

Forwards: Artem Dzyuba (Arsenal Tula), Alexei Miranchuk (Lokomotiv Moscow), Fyodor Smolov (Krasnodar), Fyodor Chalov (CSKA Moscow)

(Teams have until June 4 to finalise the 23 man squad)

Road to World Cup: Based on their playing record in recent years, Russia would not have qualified on merit.

However, they are in the Finals by virtue of being the hosts of the prestigious tournament.

They have not won since October 2017, and conceded 10 goals in four friendlies against Argentina, Spain, Brazil and France.

At the 2017 Confederations Cup earlier, they were beaten by both Portugal and Mexico but managed to edge out New Zealand in their group matches.

Player to watch:
FEDOR SMOLOV

Date of Birth: February 9, 1990 (age 28 years)
Place of Birth: Saratov Russia
Height: 1.87 m
Club: FC Krasnodar (#10/Forward)

If there is one player who can change Russian fortunes at the Finals, it would be Fedor Smolov. He is already the most prolific striker in Russia, having finished as their top goal getter in the domestic league with FC Krasnador.

The 28-year-old missed out on a hattrick of Golden Boots to Spartak Moscow’s Quincy Promes this season.

While he has had stints with Dynamo Moscow, Feyenoord and Anzhi Makhachkala, it was only after he joined Krasnador, that Smolov has bloomed.

The World Cup will give him a golden chance not only to prove his worth to his home fans but also to impress upon top Europeans clubs.

Team assessment:
Much will depend on Smolov hitting top form. His partnership with Alan Dzagoev and Aleksandr Golovin will need to hit top gear early on.

Whilst Igor Akinfeev can be reliable in front of the goalmouth, the Russian defence is still suspect.

Coach Stanislav Cherchesov will have to rebuilt his defensive line-up following injuries to two of his three regular centrebacks.

Injuries to Viktor Vasin and Georgi Dzhikiya, earlier this year has derailed Cherchesov’s plans of strengthening five-man defensive line-up.

They conceded six goals in their two recent friendlies and it is a cause of worry for Russia.

Their second match against Egypt would be crucial for their progress, assuming they can beat Saudi Arabia in their opening encounter.

 

FALCONS FLYING LOW

SAUDI ARABIA

Coach: Juan Antonio Pizzi
Captain: Osama Hawsawi
Nickname: Green Falcons
Kit: Home – white; Away – green
Cup Best Record: Second round 1994

Squad
Goalkeepers: Assaf Al-Qarny (Al-Ittihad), Mohammed Al-Owais (Al Ahli), Yasser Al-Musailem (Al Alhi), Abdullah Al-Mayuf (Al Hilal).

Defenders: Mansoor Al-Harbi (Al Ahli), Yasser Al-Shahrani (Al Hilal) Mohammed Al-Breik (Al HIlal), Saeed Al-Mowalad (Al Ahli), Motaz Hawsawi (Al Ahli), Osama Hawsaw (Al Hilal)i, Omar Hawsawi (Al Nassr), Mohammed Jahfali (Al Hilal), Ali Al-Bulaihi (Al Hilal).

Midfielders: Abdullah Al-Khaibari (Al Shabab), Abdulmalek Al-Khaibri (Al Hilal), Abdullah Otayf (Al Hilal), Taiseer Al-Jassim (Al Ahli), Houssain Al-Mogahwi (Al Ahli), Salman Al-Faraj, Nawaf Al-Abed, Mohamed Kanno (all Al Hilal), Hattan Bahebri (Al Shabab), Mohammed Al-Kwikbi (Al Ettifaq), Salem Al-Dawsari (Villarreal, Spain), Yehya Al-Shehri (Leganes, Spain).

Forwards: Fahad Al-Muwallad (Levante, Spain), Mohammad Al-Sahlawi (Al Nassr), Muhannad Assiri (Al Ahli).

(Teams have until June 4 to finalise the 23 man squad)

Road to World Cup: Saudi Arabia are making their return to the World Cup Finals after crashing out of the Asian qualifiers for the last two editions.

They topped the preliminary group matches unbeaten against UAE, Palestine, Malaysia and Timor Leste. In the following round of group matches, they finished behind Japan to earn their berth in the Finals.

Saudi Arabia earned their place at the expense of Australia on a better goal difference. It was helped by their 1-0 win in their final group match against the already qualified Japan.

Player to watch:

MOHAMMAD AL-SAHLAWI
Date of Birth: January 10, 1987 (age 31 years)
Place of Birth: Hofuf, Saudi Arabia
Height: 1.80m
Club: Al-Nassr FC (#10 / Forward)

Mohammad Al-Sahlawi is one of the most prolific goal scorers for the Green Falcons. Since making his senior international debut, he has averaged a goal a game for the Saudis.

He was sent to Manchester United earlier this year for a three week training stint to sharpen his skills ahead of the World Cup.

He has been a mainstay with the Al-Nassr since his record USD 8.5 million transfer to the club. It was the largest ever transfer deal in Saudi football history.

He was voted best player in the Saudi league twice in a row in 2014 and 2015. The 31-year-old boasts an impressive scoring record of 26 goals in 33 internationals for his country.

Team assessment:
Argentinian Juan Antonio Pizzi is Saudia Arabia’s third coach in less than a year. He was only appointed in November and is racing against time to whip up a reasonable team for the Finals.

With most of the players drawn from their league champions Al-Hilal and Al-Ahli, Pizzi has a much easier task in getting the team to play as a unit.

However, inexperience playing at this level will be a telling factor.

Yehya Al-Shehri, who is was on loan with Leganes in Spain is one of three foreign based players in the squad together with Salem Al-Dawsari (Villarreal, Spain) and Fahad Al-Muwallad (Levante, Spain).

But, none of them managed to get enough play time in Spain. Despite the setback, Yehya can still be a match winner.

If the 27-year-old playmaker can replicate his form in the qualifiers, the Saudi may have a chance at least against the hosts in their opening match.

 

DOUBLE TROUBLE

URUGUAY

Coach: Oscar Tabarez
Captain: Diego Godin
Nickname: La Celeste
Kit: Home – Sky blue and black; Away – white
Cup Best Record: Winners 1930, 1950

Squad
Goalkeepers: Fernando Muslera (Galatasaray), Martin Silva (Vasco da Gama), Martin Campana (Independiente)

Defenders: Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid), Sebastian Coates (Sporting CP), Jose Maria Gimenez (Atletico Madrid), Maximiliano Pereira (FC Porto), Gaston Silva (Independiente), Martin Caceres (Lazio), Guillermo Varela (Penarol)

Midfielders: Nahitan Nandez (Boca Juniors), Lucas Torreira (Sampdoria), Matias Vecino (Inter Milan), Federico Valverde (Real Madrid), Rodrigo Bentancur (Juventus), Carlos Sanchez (Monterrey), Giorgian De Arrascaeta (Cruzeiro), Diego Laxalt (Genoa), Cristian Rodriguez (Penarol), Jonathan Urretaviscaya (Monterrey), Nicolas Lodeiro (Seattle Sounders), Gaston Ramirez (Sampdoria)

Forwards: Cristhian Stuani (Girona), Maximiliano Gomez (Celta Vigo), Edinson Cavani (PSG), Luis Suarez (Barcelona)

(Teams have until June 4 to finalise the 23 man squad)

Road to World Cup: Uruguay qualified for the Finals with a second place finish in the CONMEBOL qualifiers. They ended 10 points behind Brazil.

Uruguay’s berth was not confirmed until the last of the qualifying competition where they beat Bolivia 4-2.

Despite losing five matches, it was still a pronounced effort from the Uruguay side that finished ahead of Argentina.

Edinson Cavani ended the qualifiers as the top scorer with 10 goals, although he missed their opening two matches.

It was all the more remarkable considering that the team has also missed their star player Luis Suarez in their first four matches.

Player to watch
LUIS SUAREZ

Date of Birth: January 24, 1987 (age 31 years)
Place of Birth: Salto, Uruguay
Height: 1.82m
Club: FC Barcelona (#9 Forward)

It did not end well for the mercurial striker in Brazil four years ago. After almost single-handedly seeing off England, Luis Suarez was drew controversy for biting Italy’s Girogio Chiellini in the next match. He was handed a nine match ban that not only ended his World Cup campaign but also a place in the 2015 Copa America.

But since the incident and his transfer to Barcelona, Suarez has rebranded himself.

He has made 97 appearances for Uruguay since making his debut in 2007 and has notched up 50 international goals.

He has also been finding the mark regularly for Barcelona, 25 La Liga goals in the just concluded season.

Team assessment:

With Suarez and Cavani upfront, Uruguay boasts one of the most feared strike-force in the Finals.

Like Suarez, Cavani has been lethal in PSG’s league win. The combination has the ability to tear apart even the best of defences and being drawn in a relatively easy group will be the perfect avenue for them to put Uruguay on the road to the knockout stages.

Cavani has scored 42 goals for Uruguay and is also PSG’s all-time top scorer. He will be looking to continue his goal scoring form together with Suarez in Russia.

With Diego Godin marshalling the defence, Uruguay will also be a tough side to breach.

The Atletico Madrid combination of Godin and Jose Maria Giminez have forged a stout backline that also helps the midfield to play a far more attacking game.

Uruguay, if they play to form has the ability to progress and even win the title for the first time since 1950.

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