- FiFA Ranking: 70
- ELO Ranking: 44
- Odds to Win World Cup: +5000
- Manager: Stanislav Cherchesov
- Preferred system: 3-5-2
Despite a historically-low ranking for a host country (and perhaps even lower expectations), Russia actually has an opportunity to advance past the Group Stage, thanks to a “lucky” inclusion in the tournament’s weakest group. Uruguay is the clear favorite, but Saudi Arabia and Egypt pose winnable matchups and offer a path for Russia to avoid joining South Africa in 2010 as the only hosts not to advance to the knockout stage.
Off the field, though, it’s been ugly. There have been reported internal disputes between the players and coach Stanislav Cherchesov (possibly leading to the exclusion of talented midfielder Igor Denisov from the squad), not to mention multiple troubling incidents surrounding the team and it’s fans.
On the field, the team has not fared well in the run up to the Cup, and the injury to striker Aleksandr Kokorin is a big blow. Still, Russia boasts some capable attack-first playmakers, notably Alan Dzagoev and Fedor Smolov. And keep an eye on twins Aleksei and Anton Miranchuk as breakout candidates.
Goalkeeper and captain Igor Akinfeev (100+ caps) is probably the team’s most well-known player, and he’ll surely be looking to rebound from a disastrous 2014 World Cup.
- FIFA Ranking: 67
- ELO Ranking: 63
- Odds to Win World Cup: +100000
- Manager: Juan Pizzi
- Preferred System: 4-3-3
The Green Falcons(!) have talent but are unproven on a major international stage. After going through three coaches in three months last year, the team has made a conscious effort to improve possession since Juan Pizzi took over, and be generally less reliant on the counterattack.
Don’t let the low ranking and astronomical odds fool you—there’s some ability here. Obviously, it begins with striker Mohammad al-Sahlawi, who put up huge scoring numbers at Al-Nassr FC. Abdullah Otayf is a strong passer and creator, affectionately called the “Saudi Modric.” Taisir al-Jassim, the vice-captain with over 100 caps, provides a veteran steadiness, and Abdullah al-Khaibari could be a boost off the bench.
The biggest issue with this team is defense. Their premier defender is probably FIFA 16 co-cover boy Yasser al-Shahrani—though he might be best known for maybe the worst miss ever. Oh, and look out for Salem al-Dawsari, who once (possibly) tried to head-butt a referee.
- FIFA Ranking: 45
- ELO Ranking: 50
- Odds to Win World Cup: +15000
- Manager: Hector Cuper
- Preferred System: 4-2-3-1
Egypt has a simple recipe (that may or may not work): defense and Mo Salah. Since Hector Cuper took over, the team has only conceded multiple goals in a game on one occasion. Rami Rabia and Ahmed Hegazi make up an imposing defensive duo, backed up soon-to-be the oldest player to ever play in a World Cup, 45-year-old Essam El-Hadary.
On the flip side, Liverpool’s Salah—Premier League leading scorer, and living legend—will be asked to carry the load, a task made more challenging by the shoulder injury he suffered in the Champions League Final (and fans aren’t helping). Mohamed Elneny (Arsenal), Ramadan Sobhi, and Mahmoud Hassan (aka “Trezeguet”) will need to provide Salah with some offensive oomph.
Also, team nickname is the Pharaohs, which I’m very very here for.
- FIFA Ranking: 14
- ELO Ranking: 12
- Odds to Win World Cup: +2500
- Manager: Oscar Tabarez
- Preferred System: 4-4-2
The clear favorite of Group A, and the one team in this batch capable of making a legitimately deep run. Uruguay enters in strong form, and should feel confident after an impressive, stress-free qualifying.
This team should be on the attack, thanks to an experienced (and still-filthy) duo of forwards, and an upcoming, exciting slate of offensive-minded midfielders. Luis Suarez, age 30, and Edinson Cavani, 30, are the top two scorers in Uruguayan national team history, and Cavani found the back of the net 10 times in qualifying. Real Madrid’s Federico Valverde, 19, Inter’s Matias Vecino, 26, Nahitan Nandez, 21, and Juventus’ Rodrigo Betancur, 20, are breakout candidates in the middle, and that crop’s effectiveness might very well determine the team’s success in Russia.
Best Game: Uruguay vs. Saudi Arabia (6/20, 11AM ET)
A casual fan’s official prediction: 1) Uruguay 2) Saudi Arabia 3) Russia 4) Egypt