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World Cup Group A: Is injury or avoiding Spain the priority for Uruguay and Russia?

Monday 25th June 2018

Group A draws to a close on Monday afternoon, and there's not a huge amount left to play for with Egypt and Saudi Arabia already eliminated. The only remaining question is who will top the group between Russia or Uruguay? The teams will do battle in Samara to decide the all-important outcome.

As it stands, Russia are in pole position and a win or draw would see them top the group. Doing that would mean a trip to Sochi on Saturday evening to take on the runners-up in Group B. For Uruguay, they know they need to win and anything less will see them take on the winners of Group B in the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow on Sunday. 

The aforementioned Group B is probably the one group where there isn't a lot between the expected top two teams. Iran, are still in with a shout but the likelihood is Spain and Portugal will progress, and if they both win their final games, the group will be decided on goal difference. If that's level, it'll be decided via their fair play standing.

Therefore, the smart thing for Russia and Uruguay to do would be to look beyond this game and start preparing for the last sixteen. Portugal and Spain are brilliant sides and it's too tight to call which of them will even finish first or second. Both the Russia and Uruguay managers would do well to put their key players in cotton wool until the weekend, but will they want to risk a drop in form? 

Uruguay

FIFA Ranking: 14th

Despite already being through, it looks as though Oscar Tabarez values continuity over what looks like a great opportunity to rest his star men. For now, it appears that nine of the 11 that started in the 1-0 victory over Saudi Arabia will be back in action again. That's if the line-up that appeared during training turns out to be correct. The two changes are expected to be Lucas Torreira and Diego Laxalt coming in to replace Cristian Rodriguez and Matias Vecino, although Tabarez did test a few different lineups and he may make further adjustments still. 

Uruguay haven't really hit the heights that are expected of them so far. They may have won both games but they were far from convincing in consecutive 1-0 victories. If they're are going to emulate their efforts of 2010 when they reached the semi-finals, there needs to be a huge jump in performance levels all over the field. 

Russia 

FIFA Ranking: 70th

Similarly, to his Uruguayan counterpart, it looks like Russia's coach, Stanislav Cherchesov, favours momentum over rest and it appears that he will look to keep a similar team to the one that crushed Egypt's hopes with a 3-1 win in St Petersburg on Tuesday. At the moment the only possible change is at left back. Yuri Zhirkov picked up a knock in the Egypt game and hasn't trained since, so there's a big chance that Russia will keep him fresh and start Fedor Kudryashov instead. The only other doubt might be Aleksandr Golovin. The 22-year-old is just one booking away from missing the next match so it might be worth keeping him away from this one.

Russia have been the surprise element in this tournament and after two games they have probably been the most impressive. Eight goals scored and just one conceded is a mightily impressive record. Their fans will be in dreamland, particularly as all the pre-tournament talk was about how they'd be the worst hosts in history. 

Prediction

With it looking like both teams are going to play their strongest side, it's difficult to look past the Europeans. They have been the far better side and were more convincing in their opening two victories. The big question will be just how much they want the win, as a solitary point would still see them win the group. With a tight Uruguayan defence, this one feels like it has draw written all over it. 

Gerry Johnston

I am a 33-year-old sports writer from Ireland who enjoys watching European football. My main focus is La Liga, but I do keep a close eye on all of the major leagues throughout the world.


Total articles: 135

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