Teams

Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay

Qualification

Russia, as the hosts, were the first team to confirm their place at the 2018 World Cup and they will be expecting home advantage to ensure that they improve on their performances in Brazil four years ago when they exited in the group stage with just two points.

Having finished second in Group B during the Asian qualification process, Saudi Arabia showed quality to finish ahead of Australia, winning six of their 10 games. With 17 goals they had the same attacking record as Japan and displayed impressive consistency.

Egypt had one of the most exciting climaxes to their qualification route as they beat Congo in the 95th minute through talisman Mohamed Salah to book their place on the biggest stage for the first time since Italia 90. A final day draw with Ghana ensured that the Pharaohs comfortably topped their group ahead of Uganda.

CONMEBOL is renowned as being one of the most competitive footballing regions, but Uruguay never looked in trouble and they finished second on 31 points from 18 matches – 10 behind runaway leaders Brazil.



Previous World Cups

Uruguay were one of the standout teams in 2010 as they advanced to the semi-finals controversially at the expense of Ghana, but they failed to replicate such form in 2014 as they were knocked out in the last-16 by Colombia. The South Americans do have impressive World Cup pedigree, though, having hosted the maiden tournament in 1930 and claimed the famous trophy twice.

This summer will be just the third World Cup appearance for Egypt, having last featured in 1934 and 1990. The north Africans have never reached the knockout stage, so that will clearly be their aim. Similarly, Saudi Arabia are playing their fifth tournament in Russia, with Germany 2006 their last match; 1994 was their first and best showing, reaching the last-16.

The hosts have struggled in their three previous appearances, falling at the first hurdle in 1994, 2002 and 2014.

Managers

Stanislav Cherchesov replaced Leonid Slutsky in 2016 and is the man charged with ensuring that Russia do not disappoint. The 54-year-old former goalkeeper is vastly experienced having held several jobs around Europe, including at Spartak Moscow.

Uruguay coach Óscar Tabárez has been in charge for two spells, with his current run commencing in 2006. At 71 he holds the record for most qualifying games in South America, and this will be his fourth World Cup.



Having both been born in Argentina, Juan Antonio Pizzi (Saudi Arabia) and Héctor Cúper (Egypt) are the foreign managers in Group A. Both recorded commendable achievements in getting their respective countries to the Russian finals.

Squads

Boasting Edinson Cavani, Luis Suarez and Diego Godin amongst others, Uruguay undoubtedly have the strongest squad in the group, and they boast quality at both ends of the pitch. Egypt’s hopes revolve around Salah being fit after the forward picked up an injury in the Champions League final, though the Liverpool player has suggested that he will feature.

Russia’s squad lacks stardust, with Fyodor Smolov and Artem Dzyuba carrying their hopes as the only players to have more than 10 international goals to their names.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, have just two players from their 23-man party that play outside of the Saudi Pro League so top-level experience is in limited supply.

Prediction

It is hard to see past Uruguay in a group devoid of one of the leading World Cup favourites. A win on matchday one over Egypt would set them up nicely to finish first, and it would be no surprise to see the South Americans get the maximum nine points on the way to the last-16.

Saudi Arabia finishing in second place would be the biggest surprise, though it is likely to be a clear scrap between Russia, backed by their passionate fans, and Egypt.