The most prestigious tournament in Football the FIFA World Cup is around the corner. With this being the 20th edition of the coveted competition, all eyes will be on hosts Russia for a stellar display of footballing spectacle.
32 teams will be participating in this World Cup and they’ve all been clubbed in their respective groups on the basis of a random draw that took place on December 1, 2017.
Host nation Russia was clubbed in Group A with African giants Egypt, Asian underdogs Saudi Arabia and two-time tournament winners Uruguay. Here's a look at the contentders.
The hosts will kickstart the tournament on June 14 when they face Saudi Arabia at the 80,000 capacity Luzhniki Stadium in their capital city of Moscow.
The FIFA World Cup in 2010 saw a rather unfortunate stat for the host nation of South Africa. They were the only host team who couldn’t make it past the group stage to the Round of 16 in the history of this tournament.
A similar fate can be seen for Russia as well, as they will have to wrestle their place for the next stage from either Egypt of Uruguay.
In the years leading up to the World Cup Russia saw a heavy investment in the domestic league. The country’s footballing federation anticipated that the competition will be extremely stiff if they didn’t get a favourable draw. They were made aware of their shortcomings in a dismal showing at the UEFA Euros 2016 where the team only managed to score a single point in the group stage.
Stanislav Cherchesov became Russian national team coach immediately after this and has steadied the ship.
The team comprises a mixture of talent with a decent amalgamation of youth and experience. Having a world-class keeper in their ranks in Igor Akinfeev will help the team be defensively sound. Aleksandr Golovin and Aleksandr Kokorin will provide the team with youthful exuberance.
But, the team lacks balance and might struggle against counter attacks or constant pressure which might be their shortcoming once again at the biggest stage.
Key Players: Igor Akinfeev, Aleksandr Golovin, Alan Dzagoev
Verdict: Group Stage
The African nation will be led by much-renowned winger Mohamed Salah who was the highest goal-scorer in the 2017/18 Premier League season. The African country made their way into the World Cup by topping their respective group in the African leg of the qualifiers. They sealed their berth with a game to spare and usurped Uganda, Ghana and Congo to make a return to the competition after 28 years.
The African nation has been prodding along for a while and have finally found a team that can make the nation proud of its football.
To support Mo Salah are the likes of Mohamed el Neny, Kouka, Ahmed El Mohammady and Ahmed Hegazi. The legendary captain Essam El Hadary who has made 156 appearances for the country is looking to be the oldest debutant at the World Cup at the age of 45.
Key Players: Mohamed Salah, Tarek Hamed, Ahmed Hegazi
Verdict: Round of 16
The South American side have always performed exceptionally well at the FIFA World Cup and will be looking to emulate these previous performances one more time.
Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani, Abel Hernandez and Christian Stuani the team has the firepower to dissect any defence.
Captain Diego Godin is considered one of the best defenders in the world and makes an excellent defensive unit with the help of Maxi Pereira and Martin Caceres. Goalkeeper Fernando Muslera has a wealth of experience of playing different leagues and will be a valuable asset for the team.
Finishing second in the CONMEBOL behind Brazil and ahead of Argentina, Uruguay is expected to breeze past the group stages and look to cause upsets in the knockout phase.
Key Players: Luis Suarez, Diego Godin, Edinson Cavani
Verdict: Round of 16
The Middle East side completes Group A and will be making their sixth appearance in the World Cup.
Under the tutelage of Juan Antonio Pizzi, who has the Copa America with 2016 with Chile, they have a manager who is well versed in cup-games.
One of the stars in their ranks is dynamic 31-year-old forward Mohammad Al-Sahlawi who was the joint top-scorer with 16 goals in the World Cup qualifiers.
However, the team has been clubbed with three teams who have had more experience than them in the international stage and will find it excruciatingly difficult to snap one of the two places past this group stage.
Key Players: Mohammad Al-Sahlawi, Nawaf Al Abed
Verdict: Group Stage
Group A is arguably the toughest group after Group H at the FIFA World Cup 2018. At any point in the games, any team can turn it up and or perform below par to bring unpredictability into play. Whether it’s the hosts Russia or the other three competitors, whosoever makes it past into the round of 16 will be looking to carry forward the momentum and learn from their mistakes.