- Saudi Arabia
WorldCupAcca Confirmed Squad:
Keeper: I. Akinfeev, V. Gabulov, A. Lunev
Defence: V. Granat, F. Kudryashov, I. Kutepov, A. Semenov, S. Ignashevich, M. Fernandes, I. Smolnikov
Midfield: Y. Gazinskiy, A. Golovin, A. Dzagoev, A. Erokhin, Y. Zhirkov, D. Kuzyaev, R. Zobnin, A. Samedov, A. Miranchuk. D. Cheryshev
Forward: A. Dzyuba, A. Miranchuk. F. Smolov
This will be Russia’s fourth World Cup since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, they have gone out in the group stages in each of their last 3 appearances, in ‘94, ‘02 and 2014 – in truth this is probably the weakest Russian side for a long time and hosting was their only chance of playing in this years.
They’ve been handed probably the easiest group in recent memory, though they might find it a struggle getting out of this one again.
The 2017 Confederations Cup at home, acted as a nice indicator to see what level Russia would be out, they subsequently went out at the group stage after beating New Zealand but losing to Portugal and Mexico.
In total, Russia have played 19 matches since Euro 2016 and won just six (against Ghana, Romania, Hungary, New Zealand, Dinamo Moscow and South Korea). They haven’t won since October 2017, and conceded 10 goals in four friendlies against Argentina, Spain, Brazil and France.
Uruguay will almost certainly win the group, so it should come down to Russia vs Egypt to see whether the hosts can get out of the group and with a very old, slow back line I can see even a 60% Mohamed Salah causing them all sorts of problems.
WorldCupAcca The Squad:
Igor Akinfeev is the undisputed number one and is probably the hosts’ best player, though he is capable of the odd blunder every now and then.
The defence is a big weakness for Russia.
When the CSKA trio of Sergey Ignashevich and the Berezutski brothers decided to quit international football, things only got worse. After the appointment of Cherchesov, Russia started playing five at the back, but since the start of 2018 he’s lost two of the regular three centre-backs (Viktor Vasin and Georgi Dzhikiya) to long-term injuries – so they had to start looking for new partnerships all over again, which has even saw Ignashevich recalled at 39-years old.
We’ll most likely see the back five line up with Mario Fernandes and Yuri Zhirkov on the flanks who will try and offer support offensively, whilst the three central defenders should be Kudryashov, Granat and Kutepov.
A 3 man midfield of Roman Zobnin, Aleksandr Golovin and Alan Dzagoev is the most probable line up in the middle of the park, Dzagoev is actually a very talented player and will be hoping to perform for his country here having missed the Euros through injury.
Aleksei Miranchuk looks a decent young player, the Lokomotiv Moscow man is just 22 and could possibly be a breakout star in the tournament, he’ll play just off of Fyodor Smolov.
Smolov was the top Russian Premier League scorer in two successive seasons (20 goals in 2015-16, 18 goals in 2016-17) with FC Krasnodar, and finished 2nd this season, 1 goal behind Spartak’s Quincy Promes.
WorldCupAcca The Group:
We mentioned already this is probably the easiest group the hosts could have asked for, Uruguay aside.
Uruguay might be a serious dark horse to win the tournament this year. Only Brazil had a more solid performance in South American qualifying than Uruguay. Though some of the team’s stars started fading, new players have emerged for the World Cup.
Defender Diego Godin (31) and strikers Edinson Cavani (30) and Luis Suarez (30) still trouble opponents. But now youngsters like midfielders Federico Valverde (19) and Nahitan Nandez (21) have become frequent starters too.
They will be solid at the back with the likes of Godin and Gimenez anyway but the way that Oscar Tabarez sets up his teams is very much to have a solid back line making them difficult to break down first and foremost – before looking to be quick and direct in the attack and get the ball to the freescoring Suarez and Cavani.
Egypts hopes almost come entirely down to Mo Salah, he will certainly not be at 100% and will probably have to be on the bench for the opening game against Uruguay but that’s not a game the Egyptians will expect to win anyway.
Salah scored 71% of the Pharaohs goals in qualifying, including the 95th minute penalty that sent his country to their first finals since 1990 but if the Liverpool star isn’t fit or his opponents find a way to nullify him, Egypt have no real plan B.
Despite this weakness they have a fairly solid defence, conceding just 4 goals en route to topping their group and with Mohammed Elneny and Tarek Hamed sitting in front of the defence they’ll be tough to break down.
Saudi Arabia are something of an unknown coming into the tournament, their first since 2006 and their 5th overall. They’ve only made it out of the group stages once, in 1994 and it’s a record likely to say in tact this time round for the lowest ranked nation at the tournament.
While Saudi Arabia are on their third coach in less than a year, the squad is built on a solid core of players. Drawn mainly from Saudi Premier League champions Al Hilal and runners-up Al Ahli, the key players know each other well, and that cohesion is a rare thing at international level.
The decision to send some players on loan such as Yahya Al Shehri, Salem Al Dawsari and Fahad Al Muwallad,to clubs in Spain in January has backfired though. Al Muwallad and Al Dawsari are the only ones who got minutes, a lone substitute appearance each, meaning they won’t be coming in with the best match conditioning.
The Saudis also have a poor record in continental tournaments in recent years, failing to advance past the group stages at the Asian Cup in 2011 and 2015.
Other issues include Juan Antonio Pizzi’s lack of preparation time with the squad; the Argentina-born coach was appointed only in November, leaving both manager and players little more than six months to work together.
WorldCupAcca Betting Tips:
World Cup Group A Fixtures / Results
|Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow – June 14, 2018 6:00 pm|
|Central Stadium, Yekaterinburg – June 15, 2018 5:00 pm|
|Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg – June 19, 2018 9:00 pm|
|Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don – June 20, 2018 6:00 pm|
|Cosmos Arena, Samara – June 25, 2018 6:00 pm|
|Volgograd Stadium, Volgograd – June 25, 2018 5:00 pm|
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