2018 FIFA World Cup: Getting to know Egypt’s Group A opponents
Pot 1: Russia (Hosts)
FIFA Ranking: 65
Fixture date: 19/6/2018 (Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg)
For the first time since FIFA rankings were incepted in 1993, the World Cup hosts are also the lowest-ranked team at the tournament. Russia will be looking to shake off that very unflattering statistic, and will hope to draw strength from their passionate home support who will flock by the tens of thousands to every single match their national team plays at the competition.
Key player: Igor Akinfeev – The 31-year-old shot stopper will captain his side on the world’s grandest football stage. Can he avoid blunders and inspire confidence in his teammates?
Head-to-head record with Egypt: n/a – The two teams have never met in an official capacity. It will make for an interesting matchup.
Trivia: Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia have never advanced past the group stage at the FIFA World Cup.
Pot 2: Uruguay
FIFA Ranking: 21
Fixture date: 15/6/2018 (Central Stadium, Yekaterinburg)
Arguably the strongest team in Group A, Uruguay are distinguished guests; a stellar fourth-place finish at the 2010 FIFA World Cup was followed by victory at the 2011 Copa America. Oscar Tabarez’ side is the only team in the group with World Cup winners’ medals, although that happened quite a long time ago (1930 and 1950). They will be expected to gather maximum points from their three matches, but their opponents will not go down without a fight.
Key player: Edinson Cavani – It could be argued that Luis Suarez was untouchable at his peak, but that is no longer the case. Cavani is scoring for fun at PSG, and will be expected to carry that form over to the national team next summer.
Head-to-head record with Egypt: 0-0-1 – Uruguay beat Egypt 2-0 in Cairo in 2006, just weeks after the World Cup in Germany, in which both teams did not participate.
Trivia: Before this edition of World Cup qualifying, Uruguay had finished fifth in the previous four campaigns (2002, 2006, 2010, 2014).
Pot 4: Saudi Arabia
FIFA Ranking: 63
Fixture date: 25/6/2018 (Volgograd Arena, Volgograd)
When Saudi Arabia were placed into Pot 4, there must have been a few worried looks among fans, due to the possibility of being drawn into a ‘Group of Death’. Any fears were quashed on Friday, however, as Iran were instead doomed to that fate. The three-time AFC Asian Cup winners will aim to give a good account of themselves at Russia, even if second-round qualification seems to be a long shot.
Key player: Mohamed Al-Sahlawi – The 30-year-old scored a whopping 16 goals in qualifying to fire his team to the 2018 FIFA World Cup finals.
Head to head record with Egypt: 4-1-1 – The latest encounter between both sides was a 2-1 win for Egypt in November 2007, a couple of months before the Pharaohs went on to retain their Africa Cup of Nations title in Ghana.
Trivia: Saudi Arabia managed to progress past the group stage on their World Cup debut in 1994, but have failed to do it since.
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