RUSSIA: Russia has participated in 10 World Cup finals; 7 of which were as the Soviet nation. And as an independent country, have featured in 3 World Cups, namely 1994, 2002, and 2014. They will be making their fourth appearance as the host nation in 2018. Since their maiden appearance as an independent nation, Russia have never gone beyond the group stage of the World Cup. Their only World Cup wins have come against African oppositions; one in 1994 when they thumped Cameroon 6-1, and in 2002 where they beat Tunisia 2-0.
ROAD TO RUSSIA: Russia beat the tireless England, the combined efforts of Spain/Portugal and the firepower of Belgium/Netherlands to land the hosting rites of the 21st FIFA World Cup. Russia qualified as the host nation.
THEIR CHANCES: Russia are still not the “finished article” and their recent friendly game results indicate that they’ll be a tough side to face in the finals.Some of the players may be lacking the required experience at the top, but home support will surely give them succor.
Alongside Uruguay, Russia should advance to the second round.
STARS TO WATCH: Igor Akinfeev, Artem Dzyuba, Yevgeni Makeyev, Alan Dzagoev.
KEY PLAYER: Igor Akinfeev; CSKA Moscow goalkeeper and captain, Akinfeev who has been in the senior national team since 2004 will be very important for Russia in the finals. At 31, he is at the right age to lead his nation at the World stage. And his experience will be invaluable for The National team.
Uruguay is by far the smallest country in the world to have won a World Cup in terms of population, 1.75 million inhabitants in 1930 when they won the inaugural tournament. Uruguay is also the smallest country ever to win any World Cup medals; only six FIFA member nations with a currently smaller population than Uruguay’s have ever qualified to any World Cup: Northern Ireland (three times),
Slovenia (twice as an independent FIFA member country), Wales, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Iceland. In total, Uruguay have won 20 official titles, a world record for the most international titles held by any country.
ROAD TO RUSSIA: Uruguay finished as runners-up to Brazil in the CONMEBOL qualifiers. They drew four and lost five times during the qualifiers; with nine wins. Los Cafeteros were equally prolific as they averaged 1.7 goals per game during the qualifiers.
THEIR CHANCES: Uruguay may not be the force of old but, finishing runners up to Brazil and ahead of Argentina and Chile during the CONMEBOL qualifiers, shows that they will be a hard nut to crack in Russia. They have the armoury to get to the quarter finals and even the later stages.
STARS TO WATCH: Most capped Maxi Pereira will be leading from the defense alongside Diego Godin. But so much will be expected of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez.
KEY MAN: Edinson Cavani. The PSG man was the highest goal scorer during the CONMEBOL qualifiers. His ten goals for Los Cafeteros was instrumental to their qualification. Cavani is expected to shine in Russia.
Egypt will be making their third appearance in the World Cup finals in Russia 2018. The Pharaohs became the first African country to participate in the finals, when they featured in Italy 1934 World Cup. Their second was after 56 years in the Italia ’90 World Cup.
ROAD TO RUSSIA: It wasn’t a plain sailing for the Pharaohs who were pitied in Group E for the third round of CAF qualifiers with Uganda, Ghana, and Congo. Their 4 wins and 1 draw were enough to seal their passage to the finals.
THEIR CHANCES: Having been absent at the World stage for 28 years, Egypt will be relishing their chance in Russia. Advancing to the knockout phase might be difficult, but the Pharaohs have what it takes to give the “big boys” a good run for their money. But it will be so difficult to qualify from Group A.
STARS TO WATCH: Essam El Hadary, Mohammed Abdul Shafi, Mohamed El Neny and Mohammed Salah were instrumental during the qualifiers for the Pharaohs. Their presence gives them the stability and experience needed at the grand stage. KEY MAN: MOHAMMED SALAH; 25-years old Salah netted 71% of Egypt’s goals during the qualifiers. He scored in all their victories, and equally ended as top scorer (with 5 goals) in the third round of CAF qualifiers. He equally has been the best player in Liverpool since joining in the summer.
Beware of Salah in Russia!
Saudi Arabia have appeared in the finals of the FIFA World Cup on four occasions, in 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006. They will be making their fifth appearance in Russia 2018. Saudi Arabia enjoyed their best outing in the USA 1994 World Cup when Coach Jorge Solari lead them to remarkable wins against Belgium and Morocco in the group stage before loosing to Sweden in the Round of 16. Saudi Arabia didn’t make it past the Group stages in 1998, 2002, and, 2006.
ROAD TO RUSSIA: Saudi Arabia qualified as runners-up in Group B, AFC third round. Japan won the group while Australia, UAE, Iraq, and Thailand failed to qualify. Saudi Arabia scored 17 goals and conceded 10 goals during the third round of their qualifiers.
THEIR CHANCES: It will be a huge task asking the Green Falcons to repeat the feat of their 1994 compatriots, but trust them to score a few goals in the group stage. However, they are the whooping boys of Group A.
STARS OF THE TEAM: Nawaf Al Abed, Nasser Al-Shamrani, Osama Hawsawi. KEY MAN: Nasser Al-Shamrani; The 2014 Asian player of the year will be an important player for Saudi Arabia. Though his short temper tends to get the better of him sometimes, but on his day, he is just a beauty to watch.