- Saudi Arabia
WorldCupAcca Confirmed Squad:
Keeper: M. Al Owais, Y. Al Mosailem, A. Al Mayouf
Defence: M. Al Harbi, Y. Al Shahrani, M. Al Breik, M. Hawsawi, O. Hawsawi, O. Hawsawi, A. Al Bulaihi
Midfield: A. Al Khaibari, A. Al Khaibari, A. Otayf, T. Al Jassim, H. Al Mogahwi, S. Al Faraj, M. Kanno, H. Bahebri, S. Al Dawsari, Y. Al Shehri, F. Al Muwallad
Forward: M. Al Sahlawi, M. Assiri
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.
After beating the already qualified Japan 1-0 on the final game of the group, the Saudis qualified finishing ahead of Australia on goal difference, by just 2 goals.
The Saudis have had some promising showings in their friendlies building up to the tournament even though they have only won 3 from 9. They started with a 3-0 win over Moldova in February and also managed 2-0 wins over Algeria and Greece as well as a draw against Ukraine.
In that time they have also suffered some bad loses, 4-0 against Belgium and 3-0 against Peru can happen and are understandable, it’s the 4-1 loss to Iraq that really stands out as a negative.
But they showed a lot of character in matches with Germany and Italy in the last couple of months when everyone was expecting them to be on the end of another couple of heavy defeats but to their credit both matches finished just 2-1.
The Saudis 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 The Squad:
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 several key players on loan such as Yahya Al Shehri, Salem Al Dawsari and Fahad Al Muwallad,to clubs in Spain in January has backfired spectacularly.
In January, a deal was struck between the Saudi Arabian Sports Authority and La Liga in Spain, which saw nine Saudi players move to Spanish teams on loan, in a bid to gain global exposure and allow the players to gain a better tactical insight into different styles of football.
Unfortunately, the Saudi players were deemed to be far below the required standard for the Spanish clubs, meaning the majority of the players have barely played competitive football since January.
Al Muwallad and Al Dawsari are the only ones who got minutes, a lone substitute appearance each.
Yahya Al Shehri has established himself as the main playmaker for Saudi Arabia side that has a relatively settled feel and that played at a level beyond the sum of its parts to qualify for Russia. Al Shehri is often given a licence to roam from his position behind striker Mohammed Al Sahlawi, and it is from deep that he can cause the most problems as he slips into positions where he can turn and face the opposition.
As far as the defensive side of the team goes, Al Mosailem will be their first choice between the stick, with Osama Hawsawi and Omar Hawsawi in the heart of the defence, flanked by Al Harbi & Al Shahrani – the Saudis are rarely underdogs when playing in their own confederation and will probably be looking to be offensive, so they may be open and vulnerable at the back – especially in the Uruguay game,
WorldCupAcca The Group:
Uruguay will almost certainly win the group.
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.
Second place 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.
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.
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.
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.
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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