After missing the last two World Cups, Saudi Arabia returns for Russia where they will open their campaign against the host nation in a match where they will be confident of eking out a result.
Their respective rankings couldn’t be closer with Saudi Arabia ranked 67th in the world, just one spot behind Russia at 66.
Striker Mohammad Al-Sahlawi was in fact the equal leading goal-scorer globally in qualifying with 16 goals, the same as Poland’s Robert Lewandoski and the UAE’s Ahmed Khalil.
The Green Falcons are one of the more accomplished teams in Asia and will be hoping to match or better their best World Cup result, having reached the Round of 16 in 1994.
Juan Antonio Pizzi, former coach of Chile, will be guiding the team in Russia although it remains to be seen how quickly the side adapts to his style. Pizzi, who represented Argentina, didn’t actually guide the team to this World Cup, having instead been called in only a few months ago following the sudden departure of Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk after a number of years in charge.
Coach: Juan Antonio Pizzi
Captain: Osama Hawsawi
FIFA Ranking: 67
World Cup appearances: 4
Best World Cup performance: Round of 16 – 1994
The first ever winner of the World Cup arrives in Russia with ambitions of a return to the glory days. Uruguay has won the World Cup twice, in 1930 and 1950, and with no clear favorite to lift the trophy in July will fancy their chances of springing a surprise.
Certainly the side boasts some of the finest strikers in the world, namely Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani, the prolific goal scorers from Barcelona FC and Paris Saint Germain respectively. Suárez holds the record of being Uruguay’s greatest ever goal scorer with 49 and his charismatic presence and combative profile will play a key role in Uruguay’s campaign. Sitting just behind him on Uruguay’s all-time list with 40 goals is Cavani and if both players fire they will form a lethal duo.
Coach Óscar Tabárez, nicknamed El Maestro (The Master or The Teacher) took Uruguay to glory at Copa América in 2011 and was at the helm of the national squad in Brazil in 2014, where they reached the Round of 16. That campaign was soured by the loss of Suárez, who was banned for four months after biting Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini in their group stage clash.
Coach: Óscar Tabárez
Captain: Diego Godín
FIFA Ranking: 17
World Cup appearances: 12
World Cup titles: 2 – 1930, 1950
Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah is the player everyone is talking about in Europe. A wonderful performance this season helped his team storm into their first UEFA Champions League final in 11 years.
A football team is more than one man, but in Egypt’s case it’s hard to ignore just how important Salah is to their chances of progressing through the group stage in Russia given his phenomenal EPL season and Egypt will be anxiously hoping he recovers in time from the shoulder injury he suffered in Liverpool’s 3-1 Champions League final loss to Real Madrid. The striker broke the record for goals in a Premier League season with 32 this year as well as winning just about every individual awards on offer. His presence on the pitch has been the catalyst for Egypt’s first World Cup appearance since 1990.
He has been the top scorer for the team in the qualifiers with five goals in five games and fired home the winning penalty that cemented Egypt’s presence in their third World Cup finals.
Coach Héctor Cúper has done an impressive job in molding a competitive side with the likes of Mohamed Elneny and midfield maestro Trézéguet among those he will be looking for to provide solid support for their star striker. The Argentinian is renowned for implementing strong defensive tactics in his squads.
Coach: Héctor Cúper
Captain: Essam El-Hadary
FIFA Ranking: 46
World Cup appearances: 2
Best World Cup performance: Group stage
Playing at home gives any team an obvious advantage. With automatic qualification, they don’t have to show their cards until the competition starts and can work calmly on fine tuning their squad. On the other hand, the lack of intense competition and extreme pressure can prove too much, as Brazil discovered when they lost 7-1 to Germany in their 2014 semi-final.
However, it was not just Napoleon who had trouble when fighting Russians. Every side that has played in Russia knows the difficult pitches play an important role when facing its national team. So can Russia match its best ever World Cup result – a fourth place finish in England in 1966? At the very least Russian fans will like their chances of progressing through the group stage.
At the helm of the team since 2016, coach Stanislav Cherchesov is a previous member of the national team – having kept goal for Russia at the 1994 and 2002 World Cups – so he knows what his players can expect.
Coach: Stanislav Cherchesov
Captain: Igor Akinfeev
FIFA Ranking: 66
World Cup appearances: 10
Best World Cup performance: Semi-finals – 1966
(playing as Soviet Union)