2018 World Cup: Group A Preview

Group Day Matches for the 2018 World Cup start on June 14. That’s less than 8 weeks away from now. It means we had better start previewing the most important sporting event of the year, right? In this blog, we take a look at Group A.

2018 World Cup Group A Preview

The teams in Group A are Egypt, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Uruguay. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are huge dogs to win the 2018 World Cup. Uruguay offers +2800 odds. Not bad for a team not named Germany or Brazil. Will Uruguay win Group A? That’s a big question I attempt to answer.

The reason the question even comes up is because Russia, the home country, is in Group A.  The Russians are decent soccer players. This season, you must suspect that Mr. Putin put forth an extra effort to get his countrymen ready for arguably not only the biggest, but also most important sporting event ever in Russia.

I preview each team in Group A before asking and answering a few questions.

Egypt                                +15000

Egypt’s current odds to win the 2018 World Cup are a solid 150 to 1. I write solid because at one point, the Egyptians were 250 to 1 underdogs to win the Cup. Can Egypt even get out of Group A? If they do, it will be because their highest-profile player, Mohamed Salah, has more than a couple of brilliant moments during group stage battle. Salah, a Liverpool winger, scored 71% of Egypt’s goals during the nation’s qualifying campaign. Salah is the key for Egypt to score goals on offense.

Manager Hector Cuper, an Argentinian, prefers to play a slow it down defensive game. Once Egypt’s opponents make a mistake, Cuper’s betting Salah will be there to counter with a perfectly timed goal.

Russia                              +3300

The Russian’s aren’t just the host country. They’re also the most intriguing nation in Group A. After a bad Euro 2016, Russia hired Stanislav Cherchesov to manage the team. Cherchesov believes in an attacking style as opposed to a more defensive style. Cherchesov plays 3 in the back instead of 4.

Going into World Cup 2018, Russia’s game plan will be to pressure up front with Alan Dzagoev, Fyodor Smolov, and Aleksandr Kokorin. Russia also boasts a couple of talented midfielders in twins Aleksi and Anton Miranchuk.

Saudi Arabia                 +100000

Saudi Arabia’s 1000 to 1 odds make them the longest shot on the board to win the 2018 World Cup. The Saudi Arabians show up to Russia with a new manager, Juan Antonio Pizzi. Pizzi is a good manager. He led Chile to the 2016 Copa America. He couldn’t get Chile to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, though.

Pizzi was available.  Saudi Arabia jumped at the chance to hire him. Pizzi will most likely lean on Mohammed Al-Sahlawi. Al-Sahlawi made his international debut with the Saudis in 2015. Since then, he’s averaged a goal a match. That’s not bad at all.

Uruguay                          +2800

As is usually the case, Uruguay’s got a legitimate World Cup team headed to Russia. Luis “El Vampiro” Suarez is the star player. He’s not the only good player Uruguay will bring to Russia. Federico Valverde, Matias Vecino, Nahitan Nandez, and Rodrigo Bentancur are all capable of being the star in any given match.

That means manager Oscar Tabarez has a locked and loaded squad. Tabarez prefers to play a 4-4-2. That tells you the philosophy behind Uruguay. Attack, attack, attack is the name of Uruguay’s game on the pitch.

Is Uruguay the Lock to Win Group A

The Urugayuans are locked and loaded to win Group A, but will they? There are plenty of positives. Suarez, although we still make fun of his penchant for biting his opponents, remains one of the best strikers in the world. Suarez has 23 goals in 23 matches for FC Barcelona. He’s scored 13 of his 23 goals in away matches. That means Luis isn’t afraid of stepping it up on the road.

Suarez might be the greatest soccer player in Uruguayan history. He’s scored 50 goals in 96 international matches since debuting for Uruguay in 2007. The man can play.

Uruguay should also get great play from Valverde, Vecino, Nandez, and Bentancur. Valverde is only 19-years-old. He plays for Deportivo La Coruna on loan from Real Madrid. With Real Madrid B, Valverde scored 3 goals in 30 matches. He’s got the talent to have a breakout World Cup. Nandez plays for Boca Juniors in Argentina. He’s scored 4 goals in 23 appearances. Nandez is only 22-years-old.

Whatever the team gets from Valverde and Nandez is icing on the cake. The two players that Tabarez is counting on to help Suarez are Matias Vecino and Rodrigo Bentancur. Vecino plays for Internazionale, commonly referred to as Inter Milan. He’s scored 2 goals in 25 appearances for Inter Milan this season. In 19 international appearances for Uruguay, Vecino has scored 1 goal.

Vecino is a midfielder who should really help Suarez get loose down field. He’s got mad skills. Another player with mad skills on the Uruguayan national team is Rodrigo Bentancur. Bentancur is only 20-years-old. His current team is Juventus. He’s only played in 15 matches for Juventus. No worries. The fact that he steps onto the pitch for one of the best teams in La Liga says something.

Uruguay appears loaded to not only win Group A, but to also make a serious run to the World Cup Finals. That’s how talented Tabarez’s squad is this year. The key will be how well Vecino and Bentancur set up Suarez. If Valverde and Nandez can score a few goals, or at least keep pressure off Uruguay’s greatest player in history, the Uruguayns could win the Cup.

Winning Group A appears like a foregone conclusion. Russia’s getting love because they’re the host team. Historically, Uruguay performs well in the World Cup. They almost always in their group. I don’t see that changing this year.

Will Russia Get out of Group A?

This is a legit question. The odds on Russia to win the World Cup are awfully low, 33 to 1. One of the reasons is because host teams often perform well in the World Cup. That doesn’t mean Russia will perform well in the World Cup.

One of the questions about Russia is whether they can defend as well as they usually do without Igor Denisov. Denisov, whom some claim is their best defensive midfielder, won’t be on the team. The reason is because he got into a bit of a tiff with Cherchesov. The falling out could lead to disaster for the Russian National Team.

The key for Russia will be to defend. There’s no doubt the Russians will score goals. The question is whether they can defend against goals being scored against them. If the Russians can’t stop Uruguay, as an example, from dropping 3 onto them, things could get extremely difficult for the Russians.

Uruguay’s defense will be tight while Egypt’s entire game plan will be to force a 0 to 0 score until the final 10 minutes. We shall see how Russia performs. Getting out of Group A isn’t a lock.

Do the two Middle Eastern Teams, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have any Shot?

Getting out of Group A isn’t a lock for Russia. Still, for the Russians to not get out of Group A, either Egypt or Saudi Arabia must step it up. Is that possible? Good question. Saudi Arabia is much too young to get past Uruguay and Russia in Group A.

But, the same isn’t true about Egypt. It’s difficult to see Egypt beating Uruguay for Group A. Egypt could sneak past Russia, though. The Egyptians play the right type of defense to frustrate Russia’s attack heavy philosophy. Without Denisov, Egypt could upset Russia straight up in Group play.

Then, the Egyptians could simply play tight and wait for Russia to panic. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Egyptians, especially with the way Mohamed Salah’s been playing, make it to the Round of 16.

What do you think?

Written by D.S. Williamson