2018 FIFA WC: Can hosts Russia withstand the pressure as Russia 2018 begins (Asks Vincent Obi, PANA Editor)

Moscow, Russia (PANA) - In just over 24 hours from now, the 2018 edition of football's biggest party, the FIFA World Cup, will begin in Russia where 32 teams, divided into eight groups, will vie for the coveted cup from June 14 to July 15.

As is the tradition in every World Cup final tournament, host country, Russia, will be embroiled in a Group A opening game at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow against Saudi Arabia.

On paper and with massive home fan support, the Russians are expected to roll over the Saudis, who are rated 67 in FIFA's latest world rankings released on 7 June, three points ahead of the Russians, rated 70.

But experts have predicted that the final group standings at the end of the three rounds of matches will be -  Uruguay, Egypt, Russia, and Saudi Arabia - in that order.

The other two Group A teams are rated as follows - Uruguay 14, and Egypt 45. This leaves Russia as the least ranked team in that group.

Russia is therefore not the favorites in this foursome, but as the home team, all eyes will turn its way and home support will be massive.

To make matters worse, several Russian regulars are sidelined with injuries and only one is a full-time starter in a major league outside Russia. Victory over the Saudis in the opener will boost their morale, but the team will still need between one and three points against Uruguay and Egypt.

The Group favourites are Uruguay, which finished second to Brazil in South America’s rugged qualifying competition. There aren’t many scoring tandems in the world with the ruthlessness of Edinson Cavani (Paris Saint-Germain) and Luis Suarez (Barcelona).

The duo arrived at their training camp after posting a combined 71 goals in 99 matches across all competitions for their trophy-winning clubs this past season. Their joint international portfolio is approaching 100 career goals.

Egypt’s hopes rest with Mohamed Salah, the inspirational and clinical attacker for Liverpool (44 goals in all competitions). If Salah regains full strength after suffering a shoulder injury in the UEFA Champions League final against Real Madrid, the Pharaohs could very much make a statement in their first appearance since 1990.

Saudi Arabia’s high point came in the 1994 World Cup with a stunner against Belgium and a place in the round of 16. Since then, the Saudis have either failed to qualify or been among the tournament’s worst teams. Most of the squad arrives from two top clubs in the domestic league, Al-Hilal and Al-Ahli, plus three players from the Spanish league.

According to a FIFA post on its website, the curtain for the 2018 World Cup will be raised on the tournament just 30 minutes before the opening game (at 3.30pm local time) at the Luzhniki Stadium which will also host the final match.

There will also be a concert held in the city's famous Red Square concurrently with the opening ceremony.

The event will focus on a series of musical acts, with Robbie Williams headlining.

Around 500 dancers, gymnasts and trampolinists will also be performing in an opening extravaganza.

England will have representation in the opening ceremony in the form of 90s pop icon, Robbie Williams.

Williams, who helped mastermind another edition of Soccer Aid for UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), will perform for the capacity crowd inside the Luzhniki Stadium and millions more watching on around the world.
-0- PANA VAO/MA 13June2018

13 june 2018 12:36:54

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