2018 FIFA World Cup: Group A
Ladies and gentlemen!
Four years after my detailed predictions for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, here are now my predictions for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. Two months before the start of the biggest sporting event in the world, it's time to look at the thirty-two teams that are going to participate. Today, I will start with group A, which is one of the easiest groups in the whole tournament which makes this one particularly hard to predict in my book.
Strengths: The hosts of the tournament will be pushed by their fans and the entire country. The team's biggest advantage is that the players almost exclusively play in the Russian Premier League and know one another particularly well. The players who have been part of the squad over the past year are aged between twenty-one and thirty-four years which makes for a balanced mixture of experienced veterans and energetic youngsters. Coach Stanislaw Cherchesov has been in charge for two years and knows his players rather well by now. He has been the goaltender of the national team for twelve years and knows what his players are going through. He has been coaching for far over a decade and has enough experience.
Weaknesses: The Russian team doesn't have any star players like Andrey Arshavin and Roman Pavlyuchenko ten years ago who gave Russian football a big boost and signed with successful foreign clubs after having their breakthrough at the UEFA Euro 2008. The team is also lacking a solid striker. Their best attacking players Aleksandr Kokorin and Fyodor Smolov have only scored twelve goals each. At the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup, the Russian side lost against Portugal and Mexico and only managed to defeat New Zealand. Since then, the team has only won one out of six games.
Prediction: The Russian side is too weak to compete at the highest international level. I predict the team to finish third in the group stage and get eliminated.
Team: Saudia Arabia
Strengths: Saudia Arabia has some very experienced players in its squad. Midfielder Taisir Al-Jassim has one hundred twenty-seven caps and central defender Osama Hawsawi even has one hundred thirty-one. The team has a very good striker in Mohammad Al-Sahlawi, who has scored twenty-eight goals in only thirty-six games. The squad is very homogeneous with most players earning their money in Saudia Arabia and three players performing in renowned Spanish Primera Division.
Weaknesses: Saudia Arabia has only survived the tournament's group stage once: back in 1994 when the tournament took place in the United States of America. Since then, the team hasn't won one single game in the tournament and I still remember the crashing 0-8 defeat to Germany back in 2002. Saudia Arabia hasn't qualified for the last two editions of the tournament. Even on a more regional level, Saudi Arabia hasn't been too convincing as of lately. They were eliminated in the group stage during the last two Asian Cups in 2011 and 2015. They didn't even get past the group stage at the last Arabian Gulf Cup in 2017. That was also the case for the last two West Asian Football Federation Championships in 2012 and 2014. The team has only won one out of its four friendly games this year, against Moldova. Coach Juan Antonio Pizzi doesn't have much experience and has only been in charge for a year.
Prediction: Saudi Arabia doesn't have the assets to compete internationally. The team will finish last in the group stage and therefore get eliminated.
Strengths: Egypt has one of the world's most successful strikers right now in Mohamed Salah who has also scored an impressive thirty-three goals in only fifty-seven games for his national team. Experienced Argentinian head coach Hector Cuper has been in charge for more than three years and is fully supported by the Egyptian Football Association.
Weaknesses: Egypt's appearance at the 2018 FIFA World Cup is the first in twenty-eight years and only third overall. The team has never gone beyond the first round. The team participated in two FIFA Confederations Cup and didn't survive the group stage either. The team hasn't had a successful year so far, losing friendly games against Portugal and Greece. Aside of star player Mohamed Salah, most players in the squad don't have much international success. The team's captain and goaltender Essam Al-Hadary is already forty-five years old.
Predictions: Egypt will probably finish second in the group stage and is going to advance to the round of sixteen. They could face Spain or Portugal in the next round and I can't see them winning against these experienced squads. They won't survive the round of sixteen.
Strengths: On paper, Uruguay is by far the strongest team in Group A. The team has an experienced goalkeeper in Galatasaray Instanbul's Fernando Muslera. Captain and defender Diego Godin and his colleague Jose Maria Gimenez both play successfully for Atletico Madrid. Strikers Luis Suarez from FC Barcelona and Edinson Cavani from Paris Saint-Germain are among the best attacking players in the world. Head coach Oscar Tabarez knows his squad very well. He is seventy-one years old and has been in charge of the team for an impressive twelve years in a row. The team has played an impressive qualification, finishing only second behind Brazil and in front of last tournament's finalist Argentina. The team has won the 2015 Pan American Games, defeating teams such as Brazil and Mexico.
Weaknesses: The squad's midfield isn't as strong as its defense and attack. It includes several young talents who haven't played that many games for their national team so far. The team hasn't won any major tournament since the Copa América title back in 2011.
Prediction: Uruguay is probably the strongest team in Group A and will advance to the round of sixteen without any problems. However, the team could meet Portugal or Spain in that round and I can't see Uruguay defeating either team right now. Uruguay will get eliminated in the round of sixteen.
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