Jack Hayhurst gives his predictions for Group A
- Fifa World Ranking – 70
- Star Man – Aleksandr Golovin (CSKA Moskow)
- Group A Prediction – 2nd
The hosts recently began their World Cup campaign with a competent and workmanlike performance to defeat Saudi Arabia 5-0 on Thursday, despite their opponents being 3 places ahead of them in the Fifa World Rankings. Prior to the match many had tipped the Russians to fail in their ambition to progress to the next stage in the tournament, yet this impressive display seems to have refuelled Russian belief that they could indeed defy the odds. With numerous experienced and adept players, they certainly have the talent in their squad to do so.
It is likely that star midfielder Aleksandr Golovin will play a big part in Russia’s World Cup campaign, and the interest in his availability from certain top clubs, most notably Manchester United, should encourage him to perform to the best of his ability. An accomplished display from the 22 year old would undoubtedly attract the attention of Jose Mourinho, who still seems to be searching for another midfielder despite his recent acquisition of Fred from Shakhtar Donetsk – a player who is also keen to impress at this year’s World Cup. However, it was not Golovin but Denis Cheryshev who made the headlines following the opening game. Cheryshev’s omission from the starting line-up was indeed rather unexpected, having regularly featured for La Liga side Villarreal last season, but the 27 year old winger certainly proved his worth by scoring two superb goals after replacing the injured Alan Dzagoev in the 24th minute.
Although Russia’s 5-0 victory over Saudi Arabia was impressive, they were not particularly tested by the opposition who put in a rather disappointing display. Upcoming matches against Uruguay and Egypt would perhaps give a more reliable indication as to how they will fare in this year’s World Cup, and there are question marks about Yuriy Zhirkov’s ability to handle Mohamed Salah.
- Fifa World Ranking – 14
- Star Man – Luis Suarez
- Group A Prediction – 1st
Uruguay enter Group A as clear favourites to progress to the knockout stages. With several world class players such as Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Diego Godin they should prove too skilled for their opponents, yet there is a fleeting admission that they perhaps lack depth in their squad. There are only certain players who seem capable of playing in a World Cup Final, although the fact that they do have some of the world’s best players is undoubtedly beneficial for the squad, who may improve under their leadership and experience. Although the scoreline did not necessarily represent Uruguay’s dominance, their display against Egypt on Friday was particularly assured and they were by far the superior team. Although Mohamed Salah’s omission from the starting line-up certainly made Uruguay’s task somewhat easier, they still had to face a well-organised Egypt side who proved particularly dangerous during set-piece situations.
The only worry for Uruguayans at the moment is Luis Suarez. The 31 year old Barcelona striker missed numerous chances during Friday’s game, and surely the country should expect more from their star player. Following Uruguay’s narrow victory against Egypt, there have been claims that Suarez is perhaps not the player he used to be and is past his prime, despite scoring an impressive 25 goals in 33 games for Barcelona last season. Should Uruguay wish to win their first World Cup since 1950, they need Suarez to be at his very best.
However, despite Suarez’s woeful start to the 2018 World Cup, Cavani’s performance against Egypt was very encouraging. He was particularly unlucky not to score, having had a wonderfully executed volley palmed away by Mohamed El-Shenawy and hitting the woodwork with a fine 25-yard free-kick. Diego Godin was also very solid at the back, shutting out all of Egypt’s attacking chances, perhaps indicating better things to come for Uruguay despite concerns over Suarez. The Uruguayans will certainly hope that Suarez was simply adapting to World Cup football once again following his ban at the tournament in 2014, and that he will soon return to his best.