The feast of international football will be upon us in June. With Russia hosting the World Cup this Summer, it’ll be the first time in 12 years a European country has hosted the tournament (last time was 2006 in Germany).
Germany won their fourth World Cup in 2014, their first in 24 years, after overcoming a resilient Argentina side, thanks to a goal from Mario Gotze in extra-time.
There will be 31 other sides competing for a shot at world glory, with a few sides in the form of Iceland, among other that’ll be making their first ever appearance at the famous tournament.
There were were shocks to the system during qualifying with 2014 semi-finalists Netherlands missing out on their first World Cup since 2002, and the likes of four-time World Cup winners Italy failing to qualify for the first time in 60 years, (at least they don’t have to suffer the ignominy of falling at the group stage like they did in 2014 [Brazil], and 2010 [South Africa]). Also, arguably the biggest shock of them all was USA not qualifying for the first time since 1986.
Other sides that failed to qualify include New Zealand, who were beaten in a cross-federation play-off by Peru, Cameroon, the 2017 African Cup of Nations winner, Chile, back-to-back Copa America winners, and African duo Ghana, and Ivory Coast who competed at the last three tournaments.
Along with group A, we’ll also be covering B, D, and G.
So, without further ado, let’s get down to business.
Russia have been drawn alongside Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and 2014 quarter-finalists, Uruguay.
Having been elected to host the tournament back in December 2010, they’ll be making their second consecutive tournament appearance, and have made two previous appearances in 2002 (Japan & South Korea), and 1998 (France), though they’ve made other appearances as the “Soviet Union”, but not as a unified nation. Their first World Cup appearance as the Soviet Union came in 1958, and reached a respectable quarter-final place, but lost out to that years hosts, Sweden. They’ve made 10 qualifications in total.
Though They’ve progressed as far as the semi-finals as the “Soviet Union” in 1966, they’re yet to progress to the knockout stage of a World Cup as “Russia”, so this could be the first time.
FIFA Ranking: 65
Manager: Stanislav Cherchesov – A former keeper who starred at both the 1994, and 2002 editions of the World Cup. He was designated the role of manager in 2016, and has since led the national side to last years FIFA Confederations Cup.
Key player: Igor Akinfeev – His influence on the pitch will be needed, having attained over 100 caps, and won six Russian titles. The captain will be raring his side can kick on if they;re to make their first knockout appearance at a World Cup (the last knockout appearance they made at a major tournament was at Euro 2008 where they reach the semi-finals).
The “Green Falcons” will be making their first appearance since 2006, but on that occasion, they failed to make to out of their group, but did manage to come away with a solitary point against Tunisia that year.
FIFA Ranking: 63
Having qualified four times in total, with their first being in 1994, their best achievement came in 1994 (USA) where they reached the round of 16, but like Russia in 1958, they too were knocked out by Sweden. Can they do better this time?
Manager: Juan Antonio Pizzi – He has only taken charge of the West-Asian side since November last year having failed to qualify Chile for this Summers tournament, despite winning the Copa America with La Roja in 2016. During his playing days, he was a creative forward, and starred for Spain at Euro 96, and the 1998 World Cup (France).
How they qualified: Saudi Arabia ended their 12-year wait for a World Cup starring with a solitary goal from Fahad Al Muwallad which sent the home fans into delirium as a crucial maximum point were earned on the final day.
Key player: Mohammad Al-Sahlawi – The high-powered forward concluded the qualifying phase with 16 goals to his name – one ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo, and level with Robert Lewandowski. That’s a special way to make himself known to the world!
Having spent three weeks training with Manchester United, there’s no doubt he will be in top form this Summer!
Featured image credit: Flippo