Egypt vs Uruguay
Well, we’re almost off! It’s time for the talking to stop and the action to start, and I, for one, just can’t wait!
After Russia and Saudi Arabia open the tournament up on Thursday afternoon, it’s the turn, on Friday, of Egypt and Uruguay at the Yekaterinburg Arena in a game which will give some shape to Group A. This game could well be a story of three red-hot strikers: two who are fit and one very doubtful.
Oscar Tabarez’ Uruguay are a good outside bet to be FIFA World Cup 2018 winners, but all the talk in the build-up to their opening game has been about Egypt’s star striker. The Pharaohs’ best hope of qualifying is almost certainly the return of Mo Salah, who expects to make the big showdown with Russia. But unless there’s been some world-class kidology from Egypt boss Hector Cuper, he won’t be ready to face the South Americans. Marwan Mohsen is the likely replacement. If Salah’s return is delayed longer than hoped, watch the World Cup 2018 odds on Egypt climb.
Uruguay have no such worries with their two big hitters ready for action. Edinson Cavani has had a phenomenal season in Ligue 1, top scoring with 28. There is also talk of Atletico Madrid lining him up as a replacement for Antoine Griezmann should the Frenchman spread his wings over the summer. Cavani’s clever movement and eye for goal will cause jitters in many a defence, and his partnership with the dangerous Luis Suarez means double trouble.
Only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo scored more goals than Suarez in La Liga last season. He bagged an impressive 25 goals while making 12 assists, all of which will be music to Cavani’s ears. Both of them have their eye on the Golden Boot and they need to make a quick start; the World Cup 2018 highlights are sure to feature the Barca man, one way or another. Who can forget how he was sent home from Brazil 2014 in disgrace after planting his teeth into Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder?
Ali Gabr and Ahmed Hegazi are Egypt’s centre-backs tasked with keeping this deadly duo quiet, and they are well known to Premier League fans; painfully so to West Brom supporters who watched them fail to keep the Baggies in England’s top flight. So what hope do they have against Cavani and Suarez?
Well, Cuper usually sets his team up to defend deeply and attack on the counter, an obvious tactic when you rely so heavily on the pace of Salah. Uruguay can expect to be met by two banks of defence and will look to their midfield to find a way through to the front two.
Rodrigo Bentancur is a player to watch. The 20-year-old midfielder has started 20 times for Serie A champions Juventus this season, and he plays with style and poise beyond his years as well as being tough in the tackle.
It looks to me that Uruguay have all they need to find a way through, which is more than can be said for Egypt at the other end where Atletico’s Diego Godin is the wall they need to run through. La Celeste have kept six clean sheets in the last nine.
The only previous meeting between Egypt and Uruguay was back in 2006 when the South Americans ran out 2-0 winners and Godin was on the score sheet.
Uruguay qualified from the South American group in second, behind Brazil, though winning just two of their last seven was a little underwhelming. Their form has picked up again since them, and so Tabarez will be happy. And they have a rich history. La Celeste were the best team on the planet at the very beginning of the World Cup, winning the first final in 1930 by beating Argentina 4-2. Before that, an Uruguay team had won the previous two Olympic tournaments.
Egypt are heading to their first World Cup since 1990 after winning a dramatic qualifier against Congo thanks to a late, late double from Salah, who else?
What are the Odds?
Uruguay come into the tournament in good shape, winning three on the bounce, while Egypt haven’t won in six in stark contrast. That must be a worry for Cuper. And our us odds reflect just that, with Uruguay at 1.83 with a -0.75 handicap, while Egypt are at 2.11 with that start, and the draw is 3.55.
And what of these two teams’ prospects of escaping Group A? Well, there’s a decent chance of them finishing one and two. Uruguay are the favourites to win the group at odds of 1.70, while Egypt are 2.07 to qualify. Beating Russia remains Egypt’s best chance and biggest focus.
But the Pharaohs have hit the net only twice in their last five games, and the likelihood of them breaching Uruguay’s defence without Salah is slim. So a repeat of Uruguay’s 2-0 win in 2006 is the second-most likely outcome, and that’s available at 6.20.
Disclaimer: Odds are correct at time of publish.
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