Fantasy World Cup Russia Group A Guide
Welcome to Fantasy World Cup Russia Group A Guide. Group A is a juxtoposition of styles and personnel, boasting the breakout player of the season Mo Salah; an unusually well-rounded Uruguayan ensemble capable of going deep in this year’s tournament; the host nation Russia who will probably just be happy to get out of the group; and Saudi Arabia who… well, Saudi Arabia.
Uruguay are the bookies’ odds-on favourites to top the quartet, with Russia in second. One imagines third-favourites Egypt’s odds will fluctuate between ‘some chance’ and ‘no chance’ depending on the fitness of their star player. None of the teams are really expected to make the last eight, owing perhaps to potential clashes with Spain or Portugal in the second round.
World cup song: “You’re The One For Me, Fathi“
There’s not much doubt about the one player that everyone’s been talking about in the build up to Egypt’s third ever World Cup appearance. “Will he play?”, “How would Egypt cope without him?”, “How does he keep his hair looking so soft and bouncy?”. Well, calm down. I can exclusively reveal that, yes, Ahmed Hegazi will be just fine.
Let’s cut straight to the chase here. Hector Cuper’s Egypt are tactically very defensive. They’re even more defensive than Jose Mourinho in a post-match interview. They’re even less porous than stainless steel. They almost never lose by more than a single goal and they conceded a meagre 18 goals in the Argentinian’s first 32 games in charge. The caveat’s that they presumably didn’t face players of Luis Suarez’s calibre very often.
And so to Salah. A collective hasn’t leant on an individual this heavily since Rambo led India to independence and a gun-toting Gandhi almost single-handedly rescued a group of Christian missionaries. Or was it the other way round? In any case, it’s slim pickings elsewhere. If the Pharaohs can continue their frugal ways, you might be tempted by West Brom’s man-mountain Hegazi, right-back Ahmed Fathi or 45 years-young keeper Essam El-Hadary. Inevitably, few will look beyond Liverpool’s masterful talisman, whom Hector will hope can re’cuper’ate to shoulder the burden of a nation.
World Cup song: “You can call me Al”
Saudi fans would probably give their right hand to smuggle a player like Salah into their squad, though that would be the punishment anyway if found guilty under Shariah law.
As most of you will already know, Saudi Arabian’s domestic football history has been dominated by Al-Hilal FC, and this is still reflected by the club contributing a great number of the squad going to Russia. That being said, the best players arguably come from elsewhere in top scorer Mohammad al-Sahlawi (Al-Nassr FC), who’s notched 28 from 38 games; and playmaker Yahya al-Shehri, who’s recently spent some time in La Liga with Leganes. Having yet to make a single appearance for the Spanish club, al-Shehri remains undeterred and in a stirring reposte gave a heartfelt battle-cry –
And if that doesn’t move you to tears, check your pulse.
Ex-Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi took up the reins late last year after the Green Falcons had already qualified, so they’ve yet to register a competitive game under his stewardship. However, consecutive 2-0 victories in May friendlies against Greece and Algeria, followed by a narrow 2-1 reverse at Italy have done much to instill some belief in a team unfancied to escape this group. Although tonight’s 3-0 hammering by Peru may be something of a reality check.
Fantasy-wise, Saudi players are going to be bench fillers at best. With this in mind, Omar Hawsawi in the centre of defence and full-back Yasser al-Shahrani are a couple of the more plausible options. Any productivity in the final third will likely be through the aforementioned Yahya al-Shehri.
World cup song: “You’ve Lost That Golovin Feeling“
Scandals and controversy never seem far from Russian sport. Whether this is often little more than agenda-driven political maneuvering or low-hanging fruit for some good old-fashioned tabloid xenophobia is best left for more learned people than I to debate. Russia is a beautiful country with some wonderful people, but even my blood boiled when I learned that they qualified for the 2018 World Cup without winning a single game, nay earning a single point. This disgusting level of blatant corruption has to surely be looked into by FIFA?
At the helm since 2016, Stanislav Cherchesov has the curious honour of being the only non-South American manager in Group A. His journey started where Leonid Slutsky’s ended, following a catastrophic Euro 2016 group stage exit propping up Wales, England and Slovakia.
Injuries have plagued the host nation’s preparation and much of their starting line-up remains somewhat of a guessing game, especially defensively. One certainty will be in goal, with captain Igor Akinfeev set to add to his 105 caps. Up front, FC Krasnodar’s Fyodor Smolov has an incredible domestic scoring record of 52 goals in 73 games while less prolific internationally, 12 from 31 isn’t too shabby either. Talented young players like Aleksandr Golovin and Aleksei Miranchuk could make an impact, but with so many uncertainties in the Russian squad, the aforementioned Smolov and Akinfeev look to be the safest bets.
World cup song: “Montevideo killed the radio star”
As the hosts and winners of the first ever World Cup in 1930, Uruguay have a unique relationship with this great competition. Were that not enough, they have the smallest population of any country to have lifted the trophy. More than 10 times smaller than the next in the list, Argentina.
Uruguay have long been painted as a rugged, competitive unit, stubborn in defence and explosive in attack. Yet, La Celeste’s Achilles heel has often been a lack of midfield creativity. That’s changed over the last year or so. The recent emergence of Juve’s Rodrigo Bentancur and Boca Juniors’ Nahitan Nandez rising up through the International youth levels, has reinvigorated an ageing team and The Sky Blue ultras could now have a team to get excited about.
The excellent Matias Vecino will be assured a starting berth after impressing for Inter this season. But it’s the familiar old guard that fantasy managers should turn to for reliable returns. Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez, capable of taking apart most defences in the world, will be sizing up Russia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia with some relish. Equally, it’s hard to see anyone not called Mo Salah puncturing the Uruguayan rearguard. Atletico Madrid’s Diego Godin and Jose Maria Gimenez, central defensive partners for both club and country, provide perhaps Group A’s best clean sheet prospects.
WORLD CUP SQUADS
The full list of all the 23 man squads can be found by CLICKING HERE
Thanks for reading Fantasy World Cup Russia Group A Guide. This article was written by Bryan Munich
Group stage fixtures in full…