2018 World Cup, Group A Preview: Oscar Tabarez's Uruguay favourites to progress

by Jack Kitson / 07 June 2018, 15:03

Group A features the 2018 World Cup hosts Russia, South American dark horses Uruguay, a (hopefully) Mo Salah led Egypt, along with underdogs Saudi Arabia, who will each fight it out for the top-2 spots, and thus a place in the last-16.

Four managers have been tasked with leading their respective countries through to the prized knockout stages, each of whom we assess below:

Group A Managers:

  • Stanislav Cherchesov (Russia)
  • Juan Antonio Pizzi (Saudi Arabia)
  • Hector Cuper (Egypt)
  • Oscar Tabarez (Uruguay)

Russia Manager: Stanislav Cherchesov

Stanislav Cherchesov

Stanislav Cherchesov is the man tasked with leading host nation Russia in the biggest football tournament in the country’s history.

The 54-year-old has been in charge of the Russian national team since the aftermath of the country’s shocking Euro 2016 campaign, where they failed to win a single game under Leonid Slutsky.

It’s fair to say the former goalkeeper hasn’t exactly lifted spirits since his appointment, with results below-par and performances lacklustre, while there’s a real lack of creativity and spark, meaning confidence is low as Team Russia head into their fourth World Cup (excludes showings as USSR).

But, now the wait is over, Cherchesov, who has chosen a largely domestic based squad, will be hoping the home support can galvanise his side and spur them on to record three points in their opener against Saudi Arabia - in a game they will be expected to win as they attempt to reach the knockout stages for the first time in their history.

A defeat would not only be a huge source of national embarrassment, but potentially disastrous ahead of two tricky fixtures against Egypt and group favourites Uruguay.

Expect Russia to progress, but only just.

Interesting Fact: Cherchesov has so far won only five of his 20 games in charge.

Prediction: Last-16

Saudi Arabia Manager: Juan Antonio Pizzi

Juan Antonio Pizzi

In a bizarre set of events, the manager that led Saudi Arabia through to the World Cup, Bert van Marwijk, is now in charge of Australia. His replacement, Edgardo Bauza, oversaw two games - both defeats - before he was sent packing. The Western Asia country then opted for the ready-and-willing Juan Antonio Pizzi, who had been jobless after he failed to steer Chile to Russia.

Pizzi has only been in charge for a matter of months, while he’s yet to manager a competitive game, however he knows that he will become an instant icon if he can somehow soar The Green Falcons (9/1) into the knockout stages for the first time in 24 years.

Few will be give his troops a chance, but with all the pressure on hosts Russia in their opening game, there is definitely potential for a shock result out of the blocks.

Interesting Fact: Pizzi is Saudi Arabia’s 40th manager in 30 years.

Prediction: Group Stage

Egypt Manager: Hector Cuper

Hector Cuper

After leading Egypt to their first World Cup in 28 years, Hector Cuper now has the chance to deliver The Pharaohs their first ever win at the showcase spectacle.

Cultured coach Cuper has managed in Argentina, Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, and the UAE, while he also spent a year in charge of the Georgian national team.

The 62-year-old may have experience on his CV, although he’s not won a whole lot - his trophy drought spans over 20 years - but the chance to create history if Egypt bag that prized first win - which could well happen in their final clash against Saudi Arabia - will no doubt spur on both him and his troops.

Egypt’s progress (13/8 to make the knockout stages) will undoubtedly hinge on the performances of one the best players in the world right now, Mo Salah, who will be looking to make a rapid recovery from a shoulder injury as he bids to light up the showcase spectacle following a stunning debut season at Liverpool.

Interesting Fact: Cuper has lost his last six successive cup finals dating back to 1996.

Prediction: Group Stage

Uruguay Manager: Oscar Tabarez

Oscar Tabarez

Oscar Tabarez, 71, will be the oldest manager at the 2018 World Cup while he is the only one of the four Group A bosses who has experience of actually managing at a World Cup, having done so three times during his lengthy and successful managerial career: 1990, 2010 and 2014.

Since returning for a second spell in 2006 Tabarez, nicknamed El Maestro “The Teacher”, has been a huge success, playing a pivotal role in transforming his country into a real threat on the world stage.

Eight years ago he became the first Uruguay boss in 40 years to lead The Sky Blue through to the semi-finals of the competition, then in 2011 they won the Copa America, before reaching the round-of-16 last time out.

Uruguay’s population may only be 3.4 million, yet in his ranks veteran Tabarez has the world class pair of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez. The duo helped their country finish second behind Brazil in CONMEBOL qualification and will now be expected to push Uruguay to top spot in what is a very favourable Group A.

At a tasty price of 28/1 Tabarez’s men will be many people’s outside picks to win the famous golden trophy for the third time in their history (1930 & 1950), although they may well come unstuck against likely opponents Spain or Portugal in the last-16.

Interesting Fact(s): Tabarez (71) will be the oldest manager in Russia, while his nickname "El Maestro" is a reference to his time as a school teacher.

Prediction: Last-16

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Richie Wellens
(Oldham Athletic)
8th June
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