The 2018 World Cup kicked off in Russia with the host country facing Saudi Arabia. It should first be noted that Group A is one of, if not the not weakest group of all time at the World Cup. That’s not just my opinion. It is what a detailed analysis by fivethirtyeight.com determined. Did Russian money deliver an easy group for the host country to give them a chance at making it out of the group stage? We may never know, but FIFA has been rife with bribery allegations and scandals for years. It is widely believed that both this year’s Russia World Cup and the 2022 Qatar World Cup were bought with bribes.
As for the opening match, it was a battle on the wings. Both teams were unable to control the middle of the field and pushed the ball down the wings for crosses into the box. This resulted in an early Russian goal on a cross and header in the box by Yury Gazinsky. The Saudi defense did a very poor job clearing the ball and some poor defense and spacing led to a second goal by Denis Cheryshev for the Russians late in the first half. The Saudis put very little pressure on the Russian goalie in the first half, but created a couple of opportunities with some wing runs. The Saudis actually controlled possession quite a bit, but continually turned the ball over, leading to quick Russian counterattacks. Midway through the second half, the Russians scored yet again on another good header from a cross, this time by Artem Dzyuba. The Saudis appeared to give up at this point and the Russians added two more goals in extra time due to poor efforts by the Saudi defense and goalie. The 5-0 win for the Russians gives them a great goal differential that will help them get to the 2nd round in case of a tie.
In the other Group A first round match, group favorite Uruguay faced off against Egypt. The Egyptians were playing without their great star, Mo Salah, who is still recovering from an injury but is expected to play in the group stage. This game was marked by many missed opportunities by heavily favored Uruguay. The Egyptians managed to play Uruguay fairly evenly early on, but as the match advanced, Uruguay began to dominate possession. Uruguayan star Luis Suarez blew an excellent opportunity midway in the first half, failing to cleanly hit a low volley from point blank range. Suarez would miss several more good opportunities in the second half. Just as the Egyptians began to believe that they would manage a draw, Jose Gimenez delivered the match winner on a header off a free kick in the 89th minute. While Uruguay won the match as expected, the numerous missed opportunities makes one wonder if they can handle the big stage. Suarez in particular is known for melting down when things don’t go his way. Uruguay should still advance out of this easy group, but they may have problems in the knockout round where they are likely to first face Spain or Portugal.