World Cup 2018: A comprehensive look at Group A
Group A of the 2018 World Cup consists of the hosts Russia, Uruguay being nominated from South America, Egypt as the African qualifiers and Saudi Arabia qualifying from Asia. The first match of the World Cup will take place between Russia and Saudi Arabia, marking the beginning of the finals.
Despite looking like a group with no clear qualifiers (no offense to Uruguay), or precisely because of that, Group A poses a lot of interesting possibilities. No side in the group are clear pushovers, and no side is expected to win the World Cup easily - leaving us with a satisfactory approach to the game.
Most probable to go through to the RO16: Uruguay, literally any of the other 3.
The tournament's hosts qualified without having to go through any of the hassles like the other times, and now is the time for them to earn their badges. The build-up to the tournament focused a lot on construction issues and their notoriously violent fans, but now is the time for football.
Manager: Stanislav Cherchesov
Cherchesov was a goalkeeper who played for Russia (also back when it was called the Soviet Union) and managed Polish side - Legia Warsaw to the Ekstraklasa title in the 2015/16 season.
In 2016, Cherchesov was appointed as the coach of the Russian National team, seemingly with a target of reaching the semi-finals. Despite being the hosts, the odds of seeing Russia in the semi-finals is not very good, and it will be a big ask of them even coming out of the group stages.
Most of the players in the squad play within the country, and have the advantage of knowing the conditions well, but to what extent that advantage will compensate against sheer footballing quality remains to be seen.
A lot of Russian fans are upset with their coach's stubbornness when it comes to tactical decisions. Despite the exit of important players from the squad (after the Berezutski brothers quit playing for the team and their main CBs - Georgi Dzhikiya and Viktor Vasin suffering long-term injuries), he has persisted with playing 3 at the back and 2 wing backs.
Another issue is his personal issues with the players. Igor Denisov, whom most people consider to be the best defender in the team, will not be flying to Russia because of problems he had with Cherchesov during their time at Dynamo Moscow.
But Russia is not without quality. Their midfield boasts a lot of creativity, with Golovin and Zobnin 100% assured of a place in the starting XI. Kuzyaev (6 goals and 2 assists) and Erokhin (7 goals and 2 assists) have had quietly brilliant seasons at Zenit, and will be important to Russia's fortunes in the competition.
Their goalkeeper, Akinfeev, has over 100 caps for Russia and is considered a legend for the teams. He is usually reliable when he is at CSKA Moscow, and will hopefully carry over that form once more to the national side.
But the general consensus is that he is a little insecure when it comes to international competitions, and is a step below what a legendary keeper should be.
Russia has some very good (good, at the very least) strikers in Smolov and Aleksei Miranchuk who have scored more than 20 goals between them this season.
Player to watch out for: Aleksandr Golovin
Russia's most important player of the tournament has to be CSKA Moscow's Aleksandr Golovin.
The 22-year-old midfielder is one of the brightest prospects in world football at the moment and Arsenal fans will be happy to know that his playing style is very close to Tomas Rosicky. He is a brilliant dribbler and passer of the ball, while equally hard-working.
Very often you can see him trying to get the ball back, but it also leads to him getting a fair amount of deserved yellow cards. He is expected to be the future of the Russian national team, and this will be their right spotlight to showcase him to the world.