The World Cup draw has been made and the groups have been decided. This preview contains all you need to know about betting on World Cup Group A.
This World Cup Group A preview uses the ELO World Rankings since they are a better judge of quality than the official FIFA World Rankings.
World Cup Group A prediction: What do the odds say?
Elo World Ranking: 44
Pinnacle World Cup power ranking: 11
Previous best performance: 4th (1966 as part of the Soviet Union)
Top scorer in qualifying: Qualified automatically as hosts
Key player: Alan Dzagoev
Odds to advance from group: 1.362*
Odds to win World Cup: 42.420*
Russia enter their home World Cup after suffering from a poor run of tournament performances. The Russians have exited at the group stage in each of their last four major tournament appearances. A repeat of this performance would see them become only the second World Cup host to exit the tournament before the knockout rounds. Russia do not have a stellar name in their squad but the side is solid enough to challenge in Group A. If they can make the most of their home advantage then a run to the latter stages of the competition is a possibility.
Whilst previous tournaments have not gone well for this Russian team, one player who does have fond memories of a big occasion is attacking midfielder Alan Dzagoev.
The CSKA Moscow playmaker was joint top scorer at Euro 2012 and six years later is still a key part of the Russian side. He has the ability to unlock defences and is the lead assister in the Russian Premier League this season. His creativity was badly missed during Russia’s limp display at the Confederations Cup. Striker Fodor Smolov, in particular, will hope to profit from Dzagoev’s return to the side.
The group stage at major tournaments has not always been kind to Russia. However, as host nation they are seeded on this occasion and may have secured an easier group than usual. They will be confident they can qualify from Group A but will face tough tests from Egypt and Uruguay.
If the group is tight then goal difference could become a deciding factor. Russia kick off their campaign against outsiders Saudi Arabia and a big win will make their task much simpler. Promisingly for the Russians, World Cup hosts are undefeated in the opening game of the tournament. Russia are available at 1.363* to beat Saudi Arabia in the opening game and the home side could offer value at that price.
Elo Ranking: 63
Pinnacle World Cup power ranking: 31
Previous best performance: Round of 16 (1994)
Top Scorer in qualifying: Mohammad Al Sahlawi (16 goals)
Key Player: Nawaf Al-Abed
Odds to advance from group: 12.430*
Odds to win World Cup: 518.34*
Three-time Asian champions Saudi Arabia finished second to Japan in qualifying, securing their first World Cup qualification since 2006. After picking up just two points from their last three World Cup finals appearances, the Saudis will need to perform far better to make an impact upon Group A.
Since qualifying the side has experienced two managerial changes. Qualification coach Bert Van Marwijk left to eventually be replaced by former Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi. Hired just months before the 2018 World Cup, it will be a tough challenge for Pizzi to form the side into a cohesive unit by the start of the tournament.
No player in the Saudi Arabian squad has played at the highest level, so this set of players is fairly unknown to most soccer fans. Mohammad Al Sahlawi is a standout name due to his strong international scoring record of 28 goals in 35 games.
The Saudi striker was joint top scorer across all qualifying regions with sixteen goals in ten games. This record may seem impressive, but eight of those goals were against Timor-Leste (World Elo Ranking 224). He should find it more difficult to score against Uruguay, Egypt and Russia than the likes of Malaysia and Thailand.
Saudi Arabia will play with a deep defence to try and force low scoring games. The success of such a tactic could depend on the form of star player Nawaf Al-Abed. The skilful Al-Ittihad winger offers a get out ball for the Saudi Arabian side. He will need to use his ability to hold the ball up and relieve pressure on the defence.
Al-Abed is perhaps the one Saudi player with the ability to cause the best defences problems, so opponents will need to make sure not to overcommit and leave him with too much space on the counter.
The only way the Saudi’s can realistically challenge in this group is through relying on solid defensive play and some fortune. With the change of manager threatening the cohesion of the team it will be an achievement for this side to earn even one point. As a result, Saudi Arabia to win less than 1.5 points at 1.487* will be a popular bet.
Elo Ranking: 31
Pinnacle World Cup power ranking: 22
Previous best performance: Group stage (1990)
Top Scorer in qualifying: Mohammad Salah (5 goals)
Key Player: Mohammad Salah
Odds to advance from group: 2.510*
Odds to win World Cup: 311.410*
Despite being Africa’s most successful side in terms of trophies, Egypt have failed to qualify for a World Cup since 1990. The Egyptians are known for their defensive organisation and tactical strength but have often lacked a true attacking threat.
Mohammed Salah’s emergence as a genuine star provides this Egyptian side with the quality that their best squads have often lacked. Egypt’s chances of progressing are likely to depend upon the performances of the Liverpool attacker. Salah scored pivotal goals in qualifying and had a direct involvement in six of Egypt’s eight qualification goals. He will need to be at his best to help Egypt through the group.
In defence Egypt should be well organised. Coach Héctor Cúper can rely upon the solidity of players such as Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny and West Brom’s Ahmed Hegazy. Whilst none of these players have played at a World Cup before they certainly will not lack tournament experience. Veteran goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary is a four-time African Cup of Nations champion and will be making his World Cup debut at the age of 44.
With their solid defence and the pace of Salah and Ramadan Sobhi on the break, Egypt are well equipped to play a counter-attacking game. The Pharaohs ability to turn defence into attack has the potential to be very effective against group favourites Uruguay and hosts Russia. The more defensive Saudi Arabian side will present a different kind of challenge to the Egyptian team. They will need to take the game to their opponents whilst preventing Saudi Arabian counter attacks.
If Salah can maintain his incredible form then Egypt will have a good chance of earning points against all three sides in the group. They will expect to beat Saudi Arabia and will be problematic opponents for both Russia and Uruguay, so a bet on Egypt to win over 3.5 points in group A at 1.806* could be a smart one.
Elo Ranking: 16
Pinnacle World Cup power ranking: 10
Previous best performance: Winners (1930, 1950)
Top Scorer in qualifying: Edinson Cavani (10 goals)
Key Player: Luis Suarez
Odds to advance from group: 1.226*
Odds to win World Cup: 38.260*
Two-time winners Uruguay are favourites to qualify from Group A, and for good reason.
Their attack of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suárez is considered to be amongst the best in world football. This attacking strength is backed up by the Atletico Madrid defensive partnership of Diego Godín and José María Giménez who will bring the organisation of their club side to the national team. Uruguay qualified as the second placed South American team ahead of Argentina.
The Cavani and Suárez pairing in attack will be very difficult for even the best teams to stop. The strikers have 89 international goals between them and will probably add to that number in Russia. Cavani is a top class striker and consistent performer in his own right, but it is the form of Suárez that could be key to Uruguay’s World Cup chances.
The Barcelona player is capable of scoring at any time but is equally as infamous for his lapses in discipline. His ban at the 2014 World Cup played a big part in Uruguay’s elimination from that competition and it was another ban that caused him to miss the 2010 World Cup semi-final.
As good as the duos in attack and defence are it is the midfield that could be the most pivotal part of Uruguay’s team. The 2010 and 2014 Uruguay sides featured a fairly pedestrian and uninspired midfield made up of ageing defensive minded players and solid but unspectacular wide midfielders.
Recently, Uruguay manager Óscar Tabárez has begun to incorporate members of their successful under 20 team. Youngsters including Depotivo’s Frederico Valverde and Juventus playmaker Rodrigo Bentancur have added extra energy to revitalise the Uruguayan side. If these players can rise to the big occasion then the Uruguayans may finally have a midfield of a quality that can match their defence and attack.
Uruguay are undoubtedly the strongest side in Group A and know that topping the group will mean they are likely to avoid playing potential Group B winners Spain in the round of 16. If they perform to their potential then Uruguay to win group A at 2.070* could offer value to bettors.