A look at the teams in Group A of the 2018 World Cup in Russia:


FIFA world ranking: 46

Last World Cup: 1990

Best World Cup finish: 13th, 1934

How qualified: Won African qualifying group

Key players: F Mohamed Salah, MF Mohamed Elneny, D Ahmed Hegazi

It's a fact: If 45-year-old goalkeeper and captain Essman El-Hadary, who has appeared in more matches than any other active Egyptian player, takes the field in Russia he would be the oldest man to ever appear in a World Cup game.

The skinny: Without Salah, Egypt doesn't have a chance of getting out of the group stage and his availability for the June 15 opener against Uruguay remains in doubt after he suffered a shoulder injury in last month's Champions League final. Egypt will strike a defensive posture in Russia even with the Liverpool forward, who broke the EPL scoring record this season with 32 goals. But if Salah can provide the difference in narrow wins over Russia and Saudi Arabia, a spot in the second round is possible.


FIFA world ranking: 66

Last World Cup: 2014

Best World Cup finish: Group stage, three times

How qualified: Host nation

Key players: GK Igor Akinfeev, F Fyodor Smolov, MF Alan Dzagoev

It's a fact: An 18-month investigation into possible doping violations against Russia's entire World Cup roster was closed last week because of "insufficient evidence," clearing the way for the team to play in the tournament it is hosting.

The skinny: Only one host - South Africa in 2010 - has failed to advance out of group play, an ignominy Russia hopes to avoid. Whether it is successful will be determined by an aging defense recently bolstered by center back Sergei Ignashevich, 38, who came out of retirement for the World Cup to replace the injured Ruslan Kambolov, and the creativity of forward Fyodor Smolov. The group-play final against Egypt probably will determine Russia's fate in the tournament.


FIFA world ranking: 67, tie

Last World Cup: 2006

Best World Cup finish: Round of 16, 1994

How qualified: Runner-up in Asian qualifying group

Key players: D Osama Hawasawi, F Mohammad Al-Sahlawi, MF Yahaya Al Shehri

It's a fact: The Green Falcons will be playing in their fifth World Cup but haven't won a game since their debut in 1994 and have been outscored 26-4 over than span.

The skinny: At No. 67, Saudi Arabia is the lowest-ranked team in the World Cup and the Green Falcons come to Russia playing for their third manager in 10 months: Juan Antonio Pizzi. Few of Pizzi's players have experience at a top level, with all but two coming out of the domestic Saudi Pro League. Despite all that the adventurous Saudis will attack - though that isn't necessarily a good thing since playing off the front foot will leave a weak defense even more exposed. Saudi Arabia should consider the World Cup a success if it manages to get a point.


FIFA world ranking: 17

Last World Cup: 2014

Best World Cup finish: Champion, 1930, 1950

How qualified: Runner-up in South American qualifying

Key players: D Diego Godin, F Luis Suarez, F Edison Cavani

It's a fact: With a population of less than 3.5 million, two-time champion Uruguay is by far the smallest country ever to win a World Cup.

The skinny: Uruguay is stacked up front with Suarez and Cavani, who combined for 53 goals for league champions Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain, respectively. Plus it has an experienced leader on defense in captain Diego Godin. Yet how deep Uruguay goes in the World Cup could be determined by the team's young but exceptional midfield. Coach Oscar Tabarez's style is to cede possession and play for the counterattack, although Uruguay is so far superior to the rest of this group that its style could change here, at least in the first round.


June 14: Russia vs. Saudi Arabia in Moscow.

June 15: Egypt vs. Uruguay in Yekaterinburg.

June 19: Russia vs. Egypt in Saint Petersburg.

June 20: Uruguay vs. Saudi Arabia in Rostov-on-Don.

June 25: Uruguay vs. Russia, Samara; Saudi Arabia vs. Egypt, Volgograd

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