Group A & the opening fixture - what to expect from World Cup 2018 for the host nation

The opening fixture of any World Cup rarely fails to capture the magic of the planet's biggest sporting competition.

by GMac88 Tuesday, 12 June 2018 10:20 AM Comments

Recent tournaments have lived up to that anticipation, with Senegal surprising France in 2002, Paulo Wanchope making life difficult for Germany in a goal fest, Tashabalala's 'goal for all Africa' and Croatia forcing heavy favourites Brazil to come from behind.

Perhaps you could argue that Russia vs Saudia Arabia is the least box office opening fixture of all time (and let's face it, you're absolutely right) but nevertheless it's the World Cup - isn't it?

As recently as 2004, Saudi Arabia were ranked within the top thirty countries on the planet. However, with the exception of the hosts (who in fairness have played no competitive games leading up to the World Cup), they are the lowest ranked team in the tournament according to FIFA.

Interestingly Russia made it to the semi finals of Euro 2008 and even reached #9 in the FIFA World Rankings, but will be looking advance from the Group Stage of a major tournament for the first time since losing in that semi final to Spain. Russia have failed to make significant changes to failing youth projects and are suffering from an inevitable decline. 

Group A is one which the home crowd will feel they simply have to qualify from. Little old Saudi Arabia and little old Egypt can't stop Stanislav Cherchesov's side, right? Hmm...

It won't be the simple, with Uruguay providing genuine World Cup pedigree whilst Egypt looking like a team who are capable of springing some surprises in their first World Cup in 28 years. If Russia don't win on Thursday, they will really struggle to advance.

All things considered it seems both Uruguay and Egypt will have enough to brush aside Saudi Arabia who have earned just two points in their last three World Cups combined. Russia are the side I think are more difficult to predict, with just a handful of players with reasonable reputation on the world stage in their squad. Fyodor Smolov, Artem Dzyuba and Alan Dzagoev are names which stand out. Is it enough? I'm thinking probably not.

Of course they wouldn't be the first host nation not to make it through the group stages - South Africa didn't. They almost certainly wouldn't be the last (*cough* Qatar).

Not quite sure whether a good or bad performing Russia would be best to help ease tensions off the pitch...

Tags

world-cup, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay