Star’s group-defining WC race as ‘dangerous’ dark horse looms

The prolific wide man picked up a shoulder injury in Liverpool’s Champions League final loss to Real Madrid and is a doubt to take his place in their opener.

Regardless, the Pharaohs will break a record in Russia with their goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary set to become the oldest man ever to play at a World Cup - at 45!

Ranked 66th and 67th in the world respectively, hosts Russia and Asian qualifiers Saudi Arabia look primed to jostle with the African nation for the second spot in the knockout rounds.




The Saudis have been stilted in their build up, with two swift coaching changes disrupting their preparations following the departure of now-Socceroos boss Bert van Marwijk.

The Russians should be buoyed by a World Cup on home soil, but a lack of quality may see them depend on a few established stars like skipper Igor Akinfeev, ex-Chelsea star Yuriy Zhirkov and up-and-coming midfielder Aleksandr Golovin.

Anything less than topping this group would be disappointing for the Uruguayans with the likes of strike pairing Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani set to spearhead another deep push at the world’s biggest tournament.



Friday 15 June: Russia v Saudi Arabia @ 1am, Egypt v Uruguay @ 10pm

Wednesday 20 June: Russia v Egypt @ 4am

Thursday 21 June: Uruguay v Saudi Arabia @ 1am

Tuesday 26 June: Uruguay v Russia @ 12am, Saudi Arabia v Egypt @ 12am

TEAMS: Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay


FIFA Ranking: 66

World Cup appearances: 11

Best World Cup result: Fourth place in 1966

Odds: $1.30 to progress from group, $41 to win the World Cup

Best XI: Akinfeev (GK, capt), Kutepov, Kudryashov, Samedov, Zhirkov, Golovin, Kuyaev, Zobnin, Miranchuk, Smolov

The Coach: Stanislav Cherchesov played 39 times as a goalkeeper for Russia and will now manage them at their home World Cup.

The Star: CSKA Moscow shot stopper Igor Akinfeev and young midfielder Aleksandr Golovin are the biggest names for the Russians.

Why they will progress: The buoyant effects of a World Cup on home soil should propel their charges, and with Mohamed Salah in doubt they could sneak through at the expense of Egypt.

Why they won’t: As one of the lowest ranked teams at the tournament, a lack of quality could prevent the home team from progressing.


FIFA Ranking: 67

World Cup appearances: 4

Best World Cup result: Round of 16 in 1994.

Odds: $8.50 to progress from group, $501 to win the World Cup

Best XI: Mosailem (gk), Breik, Omar Hawsawi, Osama Hawsawi (capt), Shahrani, Otayf, Jassim, Muwallad, Shehri, Dawsari, Sahlawi

The Coach: Juan Antonio Pizzi will helm the World Cup campaign after Bert van Marwijk’s exit following qualification.

The Star: Mohammed Al-Sahlawi is the main man up front for the Saudis and netted 16 goals in qualifying, including one against the Socceroos.

Why they will progress: Against teams of far greater ability, they can grind out results with well-crafted gameplans and passionate displays.

Why they won’t: A lack of stability after a pair of swift managerial changes could cost them dearly.


FIFA Ranking: 46

World Cup appearances: 2

Best World Cup result: Group Stage in 1934 and 1990

Odds: $2.50 to progress from group, $151 to win the World Cup

Best XI: El Hadary (gk, capt), Abdel-Shafy, Gabr, Hegazi, Fathi, Elneny, Tarek, Salah, El Said, Trezeguet, Hassan

The Coach: Argentinean Hector Cuper will lead the Egyptians in Russia.

The Star: Liverpool star Mohamed Salah is the undoubted superstar of this team, although injury doubts surround his participation – they’ll need him at full fitness if they’re to succeed.

Why they will progress: If Salah can produce the magic that he did throughout the season for Liverpool, they’re a good chance to progress — if their defence holds up.

Why they won’t: If Salah is ruled out, it’s a huge blow.


FIFA Ranking: 17

World Cup appearances:12

Best World Cup result: Winners in 1930 and 1950

Odds: $1.08 to progress from group, $26 to win the World Cup

Best XI: Muslera (gk), Varela, Godin (capt), Gimenez, Caceres, Nandez, Vecino, Valverde, Rodriguez, Suarez, Cavani

The Coach: Oscar Tabarez has led renaissance in Uruguayan football and will again steer them into the World Cup.

The Star: Strike pairing Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani are the undoubted stars of this team.

Why they will progress: Suarez and Cavani are incredibly prolific and Uruguay will be hard to stop should the pair find top form.

Why they won’t: The clear favourites to progress and win each of their group games, but football is a funny game and the pressure could get to them.


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