Group A sees hosts Russia drawn in a suspiciously manageable pool, one of only two to feature just one European team.
Far be it from us to imply any undue influence in clearing a passage through for the hosts, but this is Russia and FIFA so there would be plenty of form in the book!!
Despite the benign draw, the hosts are no certainty to progress. Stanislav Cherchesov’s team have struggled in friendlies and like all hosts have missed the edge of competitive football. They look unlikely to cut loose and this could be a very tight and nervous group for them.
Uruguay are favourites to progress and probably rightly so. They combine the usual mix of ruthless defending with a cutting edge of Suarez and Cavani up front. They look not just likely group-toppers but also dangerous one-off opponents to anyone in the knockout phase. There is little juice though in odds-on quotes to top the group.
Mo Salah will carry the hopes of Egypt on his shoulders – somewhat gingerly after the judo defending of Sergio Ramos. The rest of the Pharoahs look distinctly average, but they will know that if 10 men behind the ball can keep the score down, then punting it up to the wonder-Mo can pinch them some points.
Saudi Arabia make up the group and have looked well organised, and apart from shipping four in Belgium have looked pretty tight.
We don’t expect many goals, (unlike in our last group prediction) but by hook or more likely by crook we think the hosts will progress. It is not beyond imagination to see the immense pressures of home advantage manifest itself in a few spot-kicks and free kicks for the hosts. We can’t back Putin to top the assists, but we can back Russia’s veteran winger/wing-back and dead ball specialist Aleksandr Samedov to top the Russian scoring charts at 16/1. He has played the last three friendlies so should get game time, and was the last man to convert a penalty for Russia back in 2016.
Recommendation: Aleksandr Samedov, Top Russian Goalscorer, 1 pt win, at 16/1, Bet365
Please subscribe for notification of up-to-date tips and news, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.