2018 is a World Cup year, so we have put together a guide for each team in the tournament. We start with group A and the hosts Russia.

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Russia World Cup Fixtures, Squad, Group, Guide

Russia vs Egypt (19th June) Match Report

Russia Starting XI: 1 Igor Akinfeev, 2 Mario Fernandes, 3 Ilya Kutepov, 4 Sergei Ignashevich, 6 Denis Cheryshev (7 Daler Kuzyayev 74), 8 Yury Gazinsky, 11 Roman Zobnin, 17 Aleksandr Golovin, 18 Yuri Zhirkov (13 Fyodor Kudriashov 86), 19 Aleksandr Samedov, 22 Artem Dzyuba (10 Fydor Smolov 79)

Egypt Starting XI: 23 Mohamed El Shenenawy, 2 Ali Gabr, 6 Ahmed Hegazy, 7 Ahmed Fathi, 8 Tarek Hamed, 9 Marwan Mohsen (11 Kahraba 82), 10 Mohamed Salah13 Mohamed Abdelshafy, 17 Mohamed Elneny (22 Amr Warda 64), 19 Abdallah Said, 21 Trezeguet (14 Ramadan Sobhi 68)

Saint Petersburg

RUSSIA 3 EGYPT 1

Scorers:

Russia: Fathi 47og, Cheryshev 59, Dzuba 62

Egypt: Salah 73pen

Match overview

Hosts Russia all but confirmed their place in the knockout stages after recording the best start by a home nation in the history of the tournament.

Emboldened by their 5-0 rout of Saudi Arabia in the opening match, Stanislav Cherchesov’s side came up against a far more organised team in Egypt and struggled to break them down in the first half.

But in a blistering quarter-hour spell at the start of the second half the hosts blow Egypt away with an assured, confident performance that delighted the home crowd in Saint Petersburg.

Egypt looked to talisman Mohamed Salah to bring them back into the game. Although he won and converted a late penalty, Salah was a shadow of the figure seen at Liverpool this season.

Matter of fact

Russia bettered the record of hosts Italy in 1934 by scoring eight goals and conceding one in their first two games (Italy beat USA 7-1 and  drew with Spain 1-1).

Talking point

Mohamed Salah, having missed his side’s opening game while continuing his recovery from the shoulder injury suffered in the Champions League Final, started for Egypt. But he was below-par and clearly not yet fully fit.

Stats

Russia/Egypt

Possession (%): 46/54

Goal attempts: 11/13

Attempts on target: 5/8

Corners: 7/4

Fouls: 11/10

Pass accuracy (%): 73/78

Distance covered (km): 115/110


Russia vs Saudi Arabia (14th June) Match Report

Can Russia prove the critics wrong and inspire a nation? Match preview available here.

Starting XI: Russia – 1 Igor Akinfeev, 2 Mario Fernandes, 3 Ilya Kutepov, 4 Sergei Ignashevich, 8 Yuri Gazinsky, 9 Alan Dzagoev (7 Denis Cheryshev 25), 10 Fyodor Smolov (22 Artem Dzuba 60), 11 Roman Zobnin, 17 Aleksandr Golovin, 18 Yuri Zhirkov, 19 Aleksandr Samedov (7 Daler Kuzyaev 64)

Starting XI: Saudi Arabia – 1 Abdullah Al-Mayouf, 2 Osama Hawsawi, 5 Omar Hawsawi, 6 Mohamed Al-Burayk, 7 Salman Al-Faraj, 8 Yahia Al-Sheri (9 Hattan Bahebri 73), 10 Mohamed Al-Sahlawi (20 Muhannad Asiri 85), 13 Yasser Al-Shahrani, 14 Abdullah Otayf (19 Fahad Muwallad 64), 17 Taisir Al-Jassim, 18 Salem Al-Dawsari

RUSSIA 5 SAUDI ARABIA 0

Scorers:

Russia: Gazinzky 12, Cheryshev 43, 90+1, Dzuba 71, Golovin 90+4

Saudi Arabia: none

Match overview

Hosts Russia recorded the biggest win in a World Cup opening match since Italy in 1934 (7-1), thrashing Saudi Arabia in front of watching state president Vladmir Putin and FIFA dignatories.

Russia had failed to win in their previous seven warm-up games but any fears that the hosts would be embarrassed in front of a global TV audience were dispelled by an early goal as the Russians went on to capitalise on some shocking Saudi defending.

The Saudis, back in the World Cup for the first time since 2006, gifted their opponents too much space and respect in midfield – and Russia took full advantage.

Man of the match

Aleksandr Golovin provided two assists and scored a wonderful free-kick.

Talking point

Russia’s runaway victory was achieved despite losing their best player, Alan Dzagoev, to a hamstring injury midway through the first half. His replacement, Denis Cherysev, set up the hosts for their comprehensive victory with two well-taken goals.

Stats

Russia/Saudi Arabia

Possession (%): 40/60

Goal attempts: 13/7

Attempts on target: 7/0

Corners: 6/2

Fouls: 22/10

Pass accuracy (%): 78/86

Distance covered (km): 118/105


Russia World Cup Guide

With no qualifiers to play, hosts Russia have been desperately looking for sparring partners to prepare for the 2018 World Cup – even playing a friendly against club side Dynamo Moscow in September 2017. Things only became easier when the top European and South American teams had finished their qualifying campaigns, with Argentina coming to Moscow and Spain visiting Saint Petersburg in November, and friendlies against Brazil and France planned for March.

Stanislav Cherchesov is trying to build a new squad after his predecessor Leonid Slutsky’s unimpressive Euro 2016 outing. In the absence of top-quality players and the departure of a number of the old guard, Cherchesov has had to look increasingly at young talent, although such players are scarce and lack experience. Fans eagerly awaiting next summer’s tournament are more sceptical about the team’s chances than ever before. Qualifying from their group would be seen as a good result for the hosts.

Key Moments in Qualifying

Aug 2016
Cherchesov steps in to replace Slutskiy and the team draw 0-0 away to Turkey in his first game.
Mar 2017
Russia score two second-half goals to come from behind and earn an impressive 3-3 draw with Belgium at the rebuilt Sochi Olympic Stadium.
Jun 2017
The team fails to get out of its group at the Confederations Cup, losing 1-0 to Portugal and 2-1 to Mexico after beating New Zealand 2-0 in the opening game. Despite much speculation Cherchesov retains his job.
Nov 2017
Russia concede a late goal from Sergio Aguero and lose 1-0 to Argentina at the reopening of Moscow’s Luzhniki Olympic Stadium, which will host the opening game and the World Cup Final next summer.

Russia World Cup Group

Russia are in Group A for the tournament and have been joined by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Uruguay.

Russia World Cup Friendlies

Russia will play a warm-up friendly against Brazil on March 23rd, and France on the 27th. On the 30th of May, Russia will then travel to face Austria, and then Turkey on the 5th of June.

  • 23rd March – Brazil (lost 3-0)
  • 27th March – France (lost 3-1)
  • 30th May – Austria (lost 1-0)
  • 5th June – Turkey (drew 1-1)

Russia World Cup Fixtures

As hosts Russia will kick off the tournament against Saudi Arabia on the 14th of June. Five days later they will play the Mohamed Salah led Egypt, before ending their group stage with a match against Uruguay on the 25th of June.

The Coach

Stanislav Cherchesov, age 54 (02.09.63)
Appointed in August 2016 on a two-year contract, the former USSR and Russia goalkeeper with 49 caps is a four-time winner of the national championship. He was a key figure for Spartak Moscow in their 1995 Champions League campaign, when they won all six group-stage games, and later won three league titles in Austria with Tirol Innsbruck before ending his playing career back at Spartak. After coaching in Austria he joined Spartak and later worked with Moscow sides Spartak and Dynamo before moving to Poland in 2015 and leading Legia Warsaw to the double.

Under Pressure; Russia coach Cherchesov needs to get results in 2018 (Getty Images)

The Players
Stars
Igor Akinfeev remains the first-choice keeper and has proved his top-drawer credentials on numerous occasions. Although prone to injuries, versatile box-to-box midfielder Alan Dzagoev is also key.
Stalwart
Akinfeev has more than 100 caps to his name and is closing in on Sergei Ignashevich’s national record of 120 appearances.
Missing
Ignashevich, along with Vasili and Alexei Berezutskiy, quit international football and their absence is a major headache for the coach who has had to totally replace his back three.
Debuts
Born in Russia, Konstantin Rausch emigrated to Germany as a boy but after caps at under-21 level for his adopted homeland the winger opted to play for Russia. Another newcomer is centre-back Georgiy Dzhikiya.

Russia World Cup Squad

Final 23-man squad – 

GOALKEEPERS: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow),Vladimir Gabulov (Club Brugge), Andrey Lunev (Zenit St Petersburg).

DEFENDERS: Vladimir Granat, Fedor Kudryashov (both Rubin Kazan), Ilya Kutepov (Spartak Moscow), Andrey Semenov (Akhmat Grozny), Sergei Ignashevich, Mario Fernandes (both CSKA Moscow), Igor Smolnikov (Zenit St Petersburg).

MIDFIELDERS: Yuri Gazinskiy (Krasnodar), Alexsandr Golovin, Alan Dzagoev (both CSKA Moscow), Aleksandr Erokhin, Yuri Zhirkov, Daler Kuzyaev (all Zenit St Petersburg), Roman Zobnin, Alexsandr Samedov (both Spartak Moscow), Anton Miranchuk (Lokomotiv Moscow), Denis Cheryshev (Villarreal).

FORWARDS: Artem Dzyuba (Arsenal Tula), Aleksei Miranchuk (Lokomotiv Moscow), Fedor Smolov (Krasnodar).

Russia World Cup Injuries

Zenit St Petersburg forward Aleksandr Kokorin could miss the tournament after rupturing ligaments in his knee.

Centre-back Georgi Dzhikiya has suffered a serious knee injury and could be out of the tournament.

Viktor Vasin could also miss the tournament after suffering a serious knee injury.

Alan Dzagoev has injured what looks to be his hamstring and could miss the rest of the tournament.

Key Star: Akinfeev will be the key man for Russia (Getty Images)

The Unanswered Questions

Can the new defence cope?
Victor Vasin, Fedor Kudryashov and Georgiy Dzhikiya have all been criticised for technical mistakes and poor positioning in recent games, but it looks as though Cherchesov sees them as his only defensive options for the World Cup.

Will Igor Akinfeev avoid mistakes in crucial games?
Although undoubtedly Russia’s best goalkeeper, he has made some costly errors at major tournaments such as the 2014 World Cup and 2017 Confederations Cup.

Could Andrei Arshavin be recalled?
No, despite being probably the only Russian player to achieve widespread international recognition in the last 15 years, the 36-year-old is now at Kairat in Kazakhstan. He failed to make the final World Cup squad.

Recall: Will Arshavin get recalled into the Russian squad for 2018? (Getty Images)

Will Igor Denisiov make a comeback?
As coach of Dynamo, Cherchesov had a run-in with the defensive midfielder which led to Denisov being banished to the reserves. Since becoming national coach, Cherchesov has not considered calling up Denisov, and this has continued as Denisov has failed to make the final squad.

Can the domestic league’s top strikers take their chances in top international games?
The Premier League’s top scorer in 2016 and 2017, Fedor Smolov of Krasnodar and Zenit’s Alexander Kokorin have not shone at international level. They were due to  compete for the lone striker position or form an attacking duet but Kokorin is likely out of the tournament with a serious knee injury.

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