The 2018 FIFA World Cup is just hours away from Russia as the four-year, agonizing wait is just about over for soccer fans all over the world.
The biggest sports stage on Planet Earth (yes, bigger than the Super Bowl you whiny NFL fans), kicks off on Thursday morning here in the United States and while our home nation might not be represented, you are sure to find a favorite to root for within the field of 32 as a placeholder.
This article previews Group A, which features the hosts, a South American power and one of the best players on the planet whose nation’s hopes rest upon his injured shoulder.
Metro’s FIFA World Cup Preview: Group A
Nickname: Sbornaya (The National Team)
Times Qualified: 11
Last Appearance: 2014
Best Finish: 4th (1966)
World Ranking: 66th
The Star: Igor Akinfeev, GK, CSKA Moscow
This will be the first time that the World Cup is being held in Russia and the hosts don’t have an overly difficult group. It could mean that the home fans could see a possible run to the knockout stages despite its meager world ranking. History suggests they’ll be in trouble though considering Russia has bowed out at the group stage in each of its last four World Cup appearances. They’ll look to buck the trend in 2018 behind a young midfield led by youngsters Aleksandr Golovin along with twins Aleksei and Anton
Nickname: The Pharahos
Times Qualified: 3
Last Appearance: 1990
Best Finish: 13th (1934)
World Ranking: 46th
The Star: Mohamed Salah, F, Liverpool
We’ve seen stars representing smaller countries in past World Cups, whether it was Didier Drogba with the Ivory Coast or Edin Dzeko with Bosnia and Herzegovina, to name a couple. But there is no other player in the world right now playing better than Egypt’s Mohamed Salah, who is coming off a monumental season with Liverpool in the Premier League, which included a trip to the Champions League Final. He is the sole reason as to why Egypt qualified for its first World Cup Finals in 28 years and will be the reason why they’ll have any sort of success in Russia. All eyes will be on that dislocated shoulder picked up in the Champions League Final against Real Madrid as his status for the tournament is still up in the air.
Nickname: La Celeste (The Sky Blue)
Times Qualified: 13
Last Appearance: 2014
Best Finish: Winners (1930, 1934)
World Ranking: 17th
The Star: Luis Suarez, F, Barcelona
Russia could be Uruguay’s last chance at glory on the World Cup stage for quite some time. Both Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani are 31 years old and capable of leading the nation to the top of Group A with little issue. This is by far the best side of the foursome with plenty of international and World Cup experience to steer the Sky Blue into the knockout stages of the tournament, which is familiar territory for them. After a fourth-place finish in South Africa in 2010, Uruguay made it to the Round of 16 in Brazil four years ago.
Nickname: The Green Falcons
Times Qualified: 5
Last Appearance: 2006
Best Finish: 12th (1994)
World Ranking: 67th
The Star: Nawaf Al Abed, F, Al-Hilal
The lowest-ranked team of Group A doesn’t offer much experience on any major international stage. However, they do have some talent playing in some of the world’s top leagues outside of Saudi Arabia. While Nawa Al Abed is the engine that will keep the Green Falcons’ midfield running, there is talent in the form of Salem Al-Dawsari and Fahad Al-Muwallad, who play in Spain’s La Liga for Villarreal and Levante, respectively.
GROUP A SCHEDULE, TV
June 14, 11 AM: Russia v. Saudi Arabia (FOX)
June 15, 8 AM: Egypt v. Uruguay (FS1)
June 19, 2 PM: Russia v. Egypt (FOX)
June 20, 11 AM: Uruguay v. Saudi Arabia (FOX)
June 25, 10 AM: Saudi Arabia v. Egypt (FOX/FS1)
June 25, 10 AM: Uruguay v. Russia (FOX/FS1)