The 2018 FIFA World Cup begins on Thursday, June 14. Leading up to the tourney, we’ll offer our previews and predictions for each of the eight groups, beginning with a look at Group A:
FIFA rank (as of June 7, 2018): 66
Best player: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow)
Their captain has 106 caps for the national team and has been one of the best goalkeepers in the world during his career.
One to watch: Fyodor Smolov (Krasnodar)
Smolov was second in goal-scoring in the Russian Premier League in 2017-18 and will be leaned on as the starting striker for Russia.
Russia comes into the tournament as the second-lowest ranked team and has not advanced past the group stage of any tournament since 2008. They qualified because they are hosting the World Cup. They play a gritty style and are focused on defence first. They lucked out by achieving the easiest draw of the tournament.
FIFA rank: 67
Best player: Mohammad Al-Sahlawi (Al-Nassr)
After scoring 16 goals in Asian qualifying, the 30-year-old striker will need to provide much of Saudi Arabia’s offence.
One to watch: Fahad Al-Muwallad (Levante)
A young winger who joined Levante this year on loan. He’s exceptionally speedy and has great technical ability.
Saudi Arabia has not won a match at the World Cup in 10 group stage matches and that may not change anytime soon. However, being in the group that they are in, anything is possible and an Egypt without Salah does not look that promising.
Love this 23 man world cup roster announcement video from Saudi Arabiapic.twitter.com/X6DU3iLP67— Troll Football Media (@Troll__Footbal) June 4, 2018
FIFA rank: 46
Best player: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)
Salah won a series of awards this year, including being named English Premier League footballer of the year. He was instrumental in leading Liverpool to the Champions League finals. After suffering a shoulder injury in the final against Real Madrid, it’s unclear whether he’ll play in the first group stage match against Uruguay.
One to watch: Mohamed Elneny (Arsenal)
Elneny is a 25-year-old defensive midfielder who will be the backbone of Egypt’s midfield. He appeared in 13 matches for Arsenal in the English Premier League this past season.
Egypt revolves around Salah. He is one of the best attackers in the world, and if he does not come back healthy in time for their first group stage match against Uruguay, then they might as well wave their hopes goodbye.
FIFA rank: 17
Best player: Luis Suarez (Barcelona)
PSG’s Edinson Cavani is a close second behind Suarez. Suarez is Uruguay’s all-time leading goal scorer with 50 goals. In four years with Barcelona, Suarez has amassed 110 goals in 130 matches for the powerhouse club.
One to watch: Lucas Torreira (Sampdoria)
Though he’s only recorded two caps for the Uruguayan side, the 22-year-old midfielder had a phenomenal year in the Calcio A and has been linked to joining Arsenal for their next season.
Uruguay is virtually guaranteed to advance through this year’s group stage. If Suarez and Cavani can continue their seasonal form look for Uruguay to make a push deep into the knockout stages.
Group winner: Uruguay. This should not even be a question.
Group runner-up: Egypt. With the number of English Premier League players on their roster and the probability of the EPL’s top goal-scorer returning to the lineup, Egypt should advance.