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FIFA World Cup 2018: Groups A-D

FIFA World Cup 2018 in RussiaGroup A

Russia will have the honour to open the FIFA World Cup on June 14th. It will be the first ever big tournament played in Russia, and the team is under a huge pressure. The team was far from being ready for this big event, judging by the events taking place around the team the past years. First Fabio Capello was fired and replaced by Leonid Slutsky, who led his team to a disappointing EURO 2016, by losing 2 of the 3 group stage games. Then the former goalkeeper Stanislav Cherchesov took over and tried to adjust the team for the home tournament. The friendly games prior to the major event have not proven Cherchesov’s strategy successful. The players mainly represent the local clubs and there are no real stars in the squad. Of course, there are experienced players in the team. The goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, already been capped over 100 times for his national team, Sergei Ignashevich, the experienced defender, allrounder Yuri Zhirkov, Aleksandr Samedov and the technically gifted Alan Dzagoev are all among the team leaders. While Guus Hiddink’s offensive Russia was stunning at EURO 2008 in Austria and Switzerland, the team has become more and more defence-oriented throughout the past decade, reaching its peak under Fabio Capello’s management, when the Russians played stable football, but found it very hard to score goals. Anyway, there is a glimmer of hope for the Russian supporters, as the hosts haven’t been drawn into the toughest group of all.

Saudi Arabia will be the biggest underdog of the quartet, despite the fact that they scored 45 and conceded 11 in the 18 matches of the World Cup qualification. There are only three players in the squad playing outside of Saudi Arabia, but none of them is a regular member of the starting eleven in the club.

The second underdog is Egypt with the injured Mohamed Salah, probably the most successful player of the current European season. The Liverpool-man scored 32 goals in Premier League and was the main hero for his club on the way to the Champions League final. A player like him can make a difference in every match, but will this also be the case at the World Cup?

Egypt has other decent players in the squad, too. There are five additional players earning their money in England. The midfielder Mohamed Elneny of Arsenal played 13 matches in Premier League and 12 in Europa League this season. Ahmed Elmohamady played over 40 matches for Aston Villa in the club’s efforts to return to Premier League. Ramadan Sobhi‘s Premier League experience will be of a good addition to the team. Sobhi played 24 times for the relegated Stoke City, scoring 2 goals. The responsibility of creating the required chances for Mohamed Salah to score will fall on these players during the group stage. The key match to reach the next round will probably be the clash against the hosts on matchday 2. If Salah is on top form by then, Egypt could be seen as a favourite in this match, played after Egypt’s opener against group favorites Uruguay.

Uruguay seems to be back on track again after decades of silence. Reaching the semi-finals in 2010 and losing closely to the Netherlands, then eliminating England and Italy in 2014, Oscar Tabarez’s boys have now the last chance to challenge the crown while big names Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani, Maxi Pereira, Cristian Rodriguez and Diego Godin, all above 30, are still within the team. Uruguay finished second behind Brazil in the qualification. The team is very experienced, with six players having played 90 or more matches for their national team.  

Group B

The whole world was waiting for the Spanish domination era to end. It finally happened in 2014, after the Spaniards won three consecutive major tournaments. 2018 is the third attempt for Iniesta and co. to return the glorious days. The team was very solid during the qualification, losing only 2 points in 10 matches and leaving Italy behind. With Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, David Silva and the great Andres Iniesta still among the 23, the spirit of the magic Rojas is still alive in the troop. Four players scored 5 goals in the qualification, which shows that Spain is not dependent on one single player. Hopefully the shocking change of the head coach a day before the World Cup kick-off will not have fatal consequences for Spain. It is once again a strong and a hungry team, which will start its World Cup campaign against Portugal.

It was a great moment to see Cristiano Ronaldo lift his first ever trophy with Portugal at EURO 2016. It was the first title for the country, too. Anyway, they have now moved on, as the head coach Fernando Santos leaves some of the France 2016 heroes out of the final squad. Andre Gomes, Nani, Renato Sanches and Eder will not help the team in Russia this summer. Seven players in the squad are over 30 and three of them are even older than 35. So the absence of some heroes of the recent past and the age factor could turn into two of the biggest issues related to Portugal’s World Cup bid. Nevertheless, the qualification to the tournament was a big success, as the team won 9 out of its 10 matches. The young AC Milan striker Andre Silva brings more flexibility to Portugal’s attack, so that not everything is dependent on Cristiano Ronaldo’s skills. Portugal aims for another glorious major event, with Ronaldo being in a very good form.

The second match of group B introduces the underdogs Iran and Morocco. Despite the fact that several players from Iran play in Europe, Carlos Queiroz‘s side is considered to be the weakest team in the group. Nevertheless, Iran scored 36 goals in 18 matches during the qualification, conceding only 5 times. So this team will definitely fight for its place under the sun and should not be underestimated.

There is not much of a local representation among Morocco’s 23. Only two players play in the Moroccan league. The rest have contracts with clubs representing some of the best leagues of Europe. The defender and captain Medhi Benatia plays for Juventus, Achraf Hakimi is part of Real Madrid and Hakim Ziyech represents Ajax Amsterdam. There are no big stars in the team, as it was the case in 1998, the last time Morocco appeared at a World Cup, when Mustapha Hadji, now part of the management in the team, was the one to lead his teammates. The head coach Herve Renard managed to eliminate Ivory Coast in the qualification and remained unbeaten in all 6 matches of the final group stage. With Spain and Portugal in the same group, the Africans have a very tough campaign awaiting them in Russia this summer.

Group C

France has been a favourite to lift the trophy in the last two big tournaments. This one is not an exception for Didier Deschamps and his European vice-champions either. Deschamps, who is the only French captain to ever lift the World Cup, was able to form a very promising team, based on those already having experience in major tournaments. Especially the French attack is very impressive. Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud are accompanied by young supertalents Dembele and Mbappe. Matuidi, Kante and Pogba form one of the strongest midfields of the tournament, while Varane and Umtiti are there to secure stability in defence. However, a potential problem of the current squad could be the absence of alternatives in midfield and in the back. Relying on unexperienced players in case of injuries or bans is a risky business at such an event as World Cup. 

France‘s first opponents Australia didn’t have the best ever qualification campaign, finishing only third in the final group, behind Japan and Saudi Arabia. They won 3-2 on aggregate against Syria in the first play-off round, before clinching the tickets to Russia in the last play-off round against Honduras. Tim Cahill, 38, is still the biggest star of his team, despite the age. Six players in the squad play in England, not in the big clubs though. It will be very hard for the “Soccerroos” to survive the group stage, but this is not something new for them: Australia was always underestimated.

Peru will meet Denmark in the second match of Group C. Peru’s last World Cup appearance took place in 1982. They had to go through an additional play-off round to secure the tickets to Russia, won over New Zealand, by 2-0 on aggregate. Most of the players in the troop represent the Americas, and, in comparison to Egypt, there are no key players in the squad. Peru is expected to play offensive football, but the qualification showed that they have defence-related issues: the team conceded 26 goals in 18 matches.



Physical attributes


Technical attributes

ball control
free kicks
long throws
shooting accuracy
shooting power
slide tackle
stand tackle
aerial control
one on ones
off the area
penalty saving

Mental attributes

tactical awareness
work rate
positioning in the line
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