The 2018 FIFA World Cup will kick-off on June the 14th at 4pm (UK time) when hosts Russia take to the field against Saudi Arabia. Moscow will be the venue for the clash, the opening fixture of Group A, which also includes Egypt and Uruguay, and up to half the human race will be watching. Check out our guide of all the free bets available for the world cup 2018.
That’s right, FIFA report that an extraordinary 3.2 billion people tuned in to watch the 2014 World Cup on television. The World Cup, alongside the Olympics, is as big as it gets.
Group A will be the first group to start and the first to conclude and, with the host team involved, is sure to generate plenty of excitement.
Who will make it through?
It’s always difficult to assess the form of home teams coming into World Cups for the simple reason that, having qualified automatically for the tournament, they don’t have any. Russia haven’t played a competitive match since they were eliminated from last summer’s Confederations Cup at the group stage following a 2-1 defeat to Mexico. That disappointing showing won’t have filled manager Stanislav Cherchesov with confidence for 2018. However, there are reasons to be optimistic.
Going forwards Russia look like they have goals in them. Attacking midfielder Alan Dzagoev has been a threat for a number of years and scored against Manchester United at Old Trafford this month, while the two strikers (Cherchesov favours a 3-5-2 formation) Fyodor Smolov and Aleksandr Kokorin, hit more than 30 goals each last season.
At the back Cherchesov has shaken things up a bit. The Berezutski twins, so long a feature of the Russian rear-guard, have become peripheral figures as youngsters have come through. However, Igor Akinfeev, one of the top goalkeepers in Europe, is still a capable last line of defence.
With a decent blend of youth and experience and the home crowd behind them Russia should be a force to be reckoned with in Group A
Saudi Arabia may not be many people’s idea of a footballing powerhouse but this will be their fifth appearance in a World Cup, albeit their first since 2006. Experienced Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk guided the Saudis, somewhat pragmatically, through qualifying and was rewarded for this achievement by the termination of his contract. National team managers usually don’t last long in Saudi Arabia; van Marwijk’s successor Edgardo Bauza has already been axed and replaced by Juan Antonio Pizzi, who guided Chile to the 2016 Copa America trophy. Pizzi will be hoping he survives long enough to make it to Russia and has some talented players to call upon. Mohammad Al-Sahlawi bagged 16 goals in World Cup qualifying, putting him in the rarefied company of Robert Lewandowski, the only other player to score as many, and should be a threat at the top end of the pitch. Progressing through the group would be a success for the Saudis. They will be the least fancied team but look capable of springing an upset or two.
Uruguay famously won the first ever World Cup in 1930 and repeated the feat 20 years later in Brazil. The South Americans can boast of recent successes, too: they reached the semi-finals of the World Cup in South Africa in 2010 and won the 2011 Copa America. Star forwards Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani were involved in both campaigns and remain at the peak of their careers. Arguably, no other team in the draw can boast two number nines of such pedigree. The challenge for manager Óscar Tabárez will be building a team that extracts the best out of both. Tabárez, who boasts the flattering nickname El Maestro (The Teacher), is well placed to do so. He has been the Uruguayan national team manager since 2006 and has guided every player in his squad through their international career. Unlike his 2010 team, known for being rugged and tough with an incisive attack, his current side are generally considered more pleasing on the eye, with young, forward thinking midfielders like Matías Vecino and Rodrigo Bentancur beginning to make a mark. Uruguay will feel like they should make it out of the group.
Egypt sealed qualification for their first World Cup since 2018 in dramatic style: a last minute penalty from Mohammed Salah in their final group match sending the fans into raptures. Their absence from football’s biggest stage since 1990 is a surprise given their success at the African Cup of Nations in the same period. Egypt won AFCON three times in a row between 2006 and 2010 and finished runners-up this year, suggesting that they know how to perform in tournament football. The current side are built upon a defence that haven’t conceded more than one goal in any of their games under current manager Hector Cúper (in place since March 2015). If they can maintain such stinginess at the back and counter with the pace of Salah and Stoke City’s Ramadan Sobhi, Egypt could pull off an upset and progress from the group at the expense of Uruguay or Russia.
Russia vs Saudi Arabia (Friday June 15th) will have a huge audience, as opening games always do, and could be key for the host’s prospects. Fail to win and Russia will find themselves under pressure going into tougher encounters against Egypt and Uruguay. On the other hand, a win could ignite the tournament and provide the Russians with the momentum host nations so often ride to the latter stages of tournaments.
Uruguay v Russia (Monday June 25th) is the third and final game for both teams and will be pivotal, one way or another. If both teams live up to their billing as group favourites they will already have qualified and will duke it out for first place – often crucial in avoiding a perilous round of 16 draw. On the other hand, if either or both of the teams underperform in the first two games, it could be do or die!
Russia and Uruguay should come through but if you’ve got an eye for an outsider Egypt could be worth a bet. A solid defence and a pacy counterattack is the classic recipe for upsets and the Egyptians are no strangers to success in tournament football.