Hosts Russia kickstart the World Cup as the lowest-ranked FIFA team to participate in the football extravaganza. Stanislav Chercheshov’s men might have gotten the free pass to play in the biggest football tournament in the world by virtue of being the hosts, but that does not assure them of a spot in the knockout round. Despite a low-key performance at the last World Cup as well as Euro 2016, hopes of billions of home fans will be pinned on the experienced CSKA Captain Igor Akinfeev, who will be under pressure to take his side beyond group stage for the first time. Akinfeev has spent his entire career in Russia and will make the most use of the home environment. Russia, who need a strong defence, will hope to avoid the fate of South Africa in 2010 when they were knocked out in the group stages. The hosts will look confident in their first group match against Saudi Arabia.
Russia SquadGoalkeepers: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow), Vladimir Gabulov (Brugge), Andrei Lunyov (Zenit St. Petersburg).
Defenders: Mario Fernandes (CSKA Moscow), Vladimir Granat (Rubin Kazan), Sergei Ignashevich (CSKA Moscow), Fyodor Kudryashov (Rubin Kazan), Ilya Kutepov (Spartak Moscow), Andrei Semyonov (Akhmat Grozny), Igor Smolnikov (Zenit St. Petersburg).
Midfielders: Denis Cheryshev (Villarreal), Alan Dzagoev (CSKA Moscow), Yuri Gazinsky (FC Krasnodar), Alexander Golovin (CSKA Moscow), Daler Kuzyaev (Zenit St. Petersburg), Anton Miranchuk (Lokomotiv Moscow), Alexander Samedov (Spartak Moscow), Alexander Yerokhin (Zenit St. Petersburg), Yuri Zhirkov (Zenit St. Petersburg), Roman Zobnin (Spartak Moscow).
Forwards: Artyom Dzyuba (Arsenal Tula), Alexei Miranchuk (Lokomotiv Moscow), Fyodor Smolov (FC Krasnodar).
UruguaySpearheaded by Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, Uruguay are the strongest team in the Group and most likely to go ahead to the knockouts without much of a fuss. Suarez will want to forget the controversies of the past two tournaments (handball in 2010 and the infamous bite in 2014). With Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez keeping the defence tight, Uruguay are the best bet out of the group. Uruguay, with their strong attack and defence, will count on their 2010 run where they finished fourth to move ahead in the tournament. What the South American powerhouse need to work on is their midfield to ensure good supply for Cavani and Suarez. Uruguay’s opening group match against Egypt promises to be a thrilling one, considering that the winning side are most likely to go ahead.
Uruguay SquadGoalkeepers: Fernando Muslera, Martin Silva, Martin Campana
Defenders: Diego Godin, Guillermo Varela, Jose Maria Gimenez, Martin Caceres, Maximiliano Pereira, Sebastian Coates, Gaston Silva
Midfielders: Nahitan Nandez, Matias Vecino, Lucas Torreira, Rodrigo Bentancur, Giorgian De Arrascaeta, Carlos Sanchez, Diego Laxalt, Jonathan Urretaviscaya, Cristian Rodriguez
Forwards: Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani, Maximiliano Gomez, Cristhian Stuani
EgyptEgypt might not have played World Cup since 1990 but their faith in their superstar Mohamed Salah will play an important role in moving forward to the next stage. Egypt suffered a setback when the Liverpool forward suffered a shoulder injury during the Champions League final to dent their World Cup chances. But the African nation could bank on his ability to be the confidence boosting force even as his involvement remains a question mark. The “one-man team” qualified for World Cup by topping their group that included Uganda, Congo and Ghana.
Egypt SquadGoalkeepers: tEssam El Hadary, Mohamed El-Shennawy, Sherif Ekramy
Defenders: Ahmed Fathi, Saad Samir, Ayman Ashraf, Mahmoud Hamdy, Mohamed Abdel-Shafy, Ahmed Hegazi, Ali Gabr, Ahmed Elmohamady, Omar Gaber
Midfielders: Mohamed Elneny, Tarek Hamed, Abdallah Said, Shikabala, Sam Morsy, Mahmoud Kahraba, Mahmoud Hassan, Ramadan Sobhi, Amr Warda
Forwards: Mohamed Salah, Marwan Mohsen
Saudi Arabia appear to be the weakest of the teams in the group and under a manager who did not get enough time to shape his side. With their best player in Mohammad Al-Sahlawi, who has played his entire club career in Saudi Arabia, he will need to replicate his form in Russia if the team wishes to advance to the knockout stage. Saudi Arabia finished second in Group B during the third and final round of AFC qualifying, in a group that was topped by Japan and also featured Australia, the UAE, Iraq and Thailand.
Saudi Arabia SquadGoalkeepers: Mohammed Al Owais, Yasser Al Mosailem, Abdullah Al Mayouf
Defenders: Mansoor Al Harbi, Mohammed Al Breik, Yasser Al Shahrani, Motaz Hawsawi, Osama Hawsawi, Omar Hawsawi, Ali Al Bulaihi
Midfielders: Abdullah Al Khaibari, Abdulmalek Al Khaibri, Salman Al Faraj, Mohamed Kanno, Abdullah Otayf, Taiseer Al Jassim, Houssain Al Mogahwi, Hattan Bahebri, Salem Al Dawsari, Yahya Al Shehri, Fahad Al Muwallad
Forwards: Mohammad Al Sahlawi, Muhannad Assiri