Group A Preview: Russian weakness opens door for Uruguay

Russia enters the 2018 World Cup as perhaps the weakest host nation in the history of the World Cup.

At No. 70 in the latest FIFA rankings, Russia is the lowest ranked team in the tournament, and recent performances have only added to the glum outlook.

Russia lost to Austria, 1-0, and tied Turkey, 1-1, in recent friendlies during which it managed to put one shot on target. It enters the World Cup without a win in 2018 and in its last seven matches. If Russia doesn't beat Saudi Arabia on Thursday in Moscow, it will tie the record for the longest winless streak in national team history -- a record first set in 1912-14 during the days of the tsar and matched in 1998.

Just getting out of the group will be an accomplishment for Coach Stanislav Cherchesov, who took charge after Euro 2016 and whose work has been marred by a spate of injuries that cost him his two center backs, Viktor Vasin and Georgi Dzhikiya, and forward Aleksandr Kokorin.

Prediction

Uruguay should finish ahead of Russia in the weakest of the eight groups. La Celeste made it out of the group stage in 2010 when it finished fourth and again in 2014 when it beat out England and Italy for second place behind Costa Rica.

Our picks: 1. Uruguay. 2. Russia. 3. Egypt. 4. Saudi Arabia.

Group A Schedule
June 14 Russia vs. Saudi Arabia, Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow (11 am ET, Fox, Telemundo)
June 15 Egypt vs. Uruguay, Ekaterinburg (8 am ET, FS1, Telemundo)
June 19 Russia vs. Egypt, St. Petersburg (2 pm ET, Fox, Telemundo)
June 20 Uruguay vs. Saudi Arabia, Rostov (11 am ET, Fox, Telemundo)
June 25 Uruguay vs. Russia, Samara (10 am ET, *Fox, Telemundo)
June 25 Saudi Arabia vs. Egypt, Volgograd (10 am ET, *FS1, Universo)
*Network assignment subject to change.

World Cup: Complete Rosters

The Entertainers
Two of the great forwards of modern soccer, Uruguay's Luis Suarez and Egypt's Mohamed Salah, will be the star attractions. Like Suarez four years ago when he was coming off knee surgery, Salah faces a race against the clock after injuring his shoulder in the UEFA Champions League final. ... If Russia is to get out of the group stage, it will need a big tournament from CSKA Moscow playmaker Alan Dzagoev, its most talented player. ... Saudi Arabia's Mohammad Al-Sahlawi, who scored 16 goals in qualifying, has earned a trial at Manchester United believed to be tied to a commercial deal with the General Sports Authority.

Breakout Player
Despite the duo of Edinson Cavani and Suarez -- 93 international goals between them -- Uruguay often struggles to create chances. Rodrigo Bentancur, 20, should give the attack a boost. The 6-foot-2 midfielder is coming off his first season at Italian champion Juventus. He only joined the national team last fall, but his versatility makes him a valuable asset.

U.S. Connection
Egyptian Omar Gaber joined his former national team coach Bob Bradley at LAFC. He is one of three LAFC players at the World Cup along with Mexico's Carlos Vela and Costa Rica's Marco Urena.

Trivia
Oscar Tabarez will be coaching Uruguay for the fourth time. No other coach has coached as many times at the tournament. The 71-year-old coach led La Celeste to the finals in 1990 and again in 2010 and 2014. In charge since March 2006, the former school teacher is also the longest-serving coach at the World Cup.
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