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Your ultimate World Cup quick cheat sheet: Groups A to D

Mo Salah in Egypt colours. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)
Roar Guru
7th June, 2018
0

The Greatest Show on Earth – the 2018 FIFA World Cup – is almost here and it will capture the imaginations of so many, and the headlines around the world.

But with 32 nations, so many games spread across June and July and some dreadful time slots for Australian football fans, it is hard to keep up with everything World Cup related.

Hopefully the below will give a bite-sized preview of each group and every team, arming you with enough passing information to make yourself look like the World Cup aficionado with your colleagues and family during the World Cup.

It may even help you with your tipping, Fantasy team or a little wager.

There’s even a reason to care about each team if you wanted to go that far.

If the below isn’t enough, we have kindly created, and The Roar have given the tick of approval for the Greatest Show on Earth podcast. This is a preview for Groups A to D, followed by part two for Groups E to H.

Then, throughout the World Cup, there will be a catch-up on the games that were and the matches ahead that will be.

So enjoy the below, then join in for the Greatest Show on Earth World Cup Podcast.

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Group A

Group A features the worst FIFA Ranked group on the average of the four teams, and the two worst ranked teams at this year’s World Cup in Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Russia
Ranking:: 66th
Qualifying Grade: N/A

Russiam being the host nationm didn’t need to qualify, but there is the train of thought where they may have struggled to make it.

Player to care about
Alexsandr Golovin – up and comer from CSKA Moscow performed well in European competitions and primed for a bigger club in Europe.

World Cup Pedigree
Finished 4th in 1966, this is their 11th World Cup. Haven’t made it past the Group Stage since 1986.

One reason to care
If you are cynical or political you could be interested to see how Russia progress. Putin will be watching, World Cup hosts, do they dare underperform?

Saudia Arabia
Ranking: 67th
Qualifying Grade: B

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Finished second but, importantly, ahead of Australia, so a direct path to the World Cup. Saudi Arabia lost two more games than Australia, but our draws hurt.

Player to care about
Mohammed Al-Sahlawi – forward from Al-Nassr has a healthy 28 Goals from 39 Internationals, and 102 goals in 174 for his club.

World Cup pedigree

This is their fifth World Cup and their best result is a round-of-16 appearance in 1994. Made consecutive World Cup between 1994-2006.

One reason to care

A better showing for Saudi Arabia means Australia looks better for not beating them to second?

Uruguay
Ranking: 17th
Qualifying Grade: A-

Second only to Brazil, although quite a margin to first. Ahead of Argentina and Colombia.

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Player to care about
Luis Suarez – the Barcelona forward is the leading all-time scorer for his nation, and the biggest name. Probably still has to make up for his munching work from the 2014 edition.

Uruguay's Luis Suarez controls the ball

(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)

World Cup pedigree
Uruguay have hosted the World Cup, they have won it twice. This is their 13th World Cup appearance, and they have only finished in the group stages three times.

One reason to care
Throw in Edison Cavani from PSG (South American Qualifying’s top scorer) and you have a front two to get truly excited about.

Egypt
Ranking: 46th
Qualifying Grade: B+

Topped Group E with four wins, a draw and a loss. Mo Salah scored the goal that sent them through.

Player to care about
Mo Salah. Liverpool’s Golden Boot winner scored 32 EPL goals and 44 in all competitions. The world awaits the extent of the injury from the Champions League final.

World Cup pedigree
Third World Cup, first since 1990. Yet to win a game.

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One reason to care
Mo Salah, Mo Problems. Arguably the best player on the planet this season.

The Games
With so many games, it is hard to know which ones to watch. The serious sporting nerd will attempt them all, but for the less enthused, here is a suggested menu of football for the group.

Some are worth getting into the mood for and staying up, others you simply check the score, check your fantasy points and move on.

Stay up
This is a must watch, so grab a favourite beverage or two, watch some old World Cup footage to get in the mood, and get excited.

Russia vs Saudi Arabia (Friday, June 15, 1am (AEST))
Gotta see the first game live despite the 1am kick-off. It’s only Friday the next day.

Egypt vs Uruguay (Friday, June 15, 10pm)
Salah v Suarez – decent timeslot.

The Prediction
Winner: Uruguay
Qualify: Russia

The Best Bet
Uruguay to win Group A

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Group B

Group B has one of the first round’s big clashes between Spain and Portugal, and another mildly interesting fact is that this group features the smallest distance between all four teams at a World Cup group stage.

It could be tight as there was just one loss, and nine goals conceded between all four teams during qualifying. Expect a few nils.

Spain
Ranking: 8th
Qualifying Grade: A

Won the pool featuring Italy, with record of nine wins and one draw from ten games, scoring 36 goals and conceding just three. Yeah, pretty good effort.

Player to care about
David de Gea – possibly the best goalkeeper on the planet, and one of the main reasons Manchester United finished second in the EPL – instead of fighting for fourth.

See also: Sergio Ramos, Andres Iniesta, Isco, Diego Costa

World Cup pedigree
Won it in 2010 in South Africa, in the middle of two Euro Championships. Didn’t make it out of the Group Stage last time in Brazil.

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One reason to care
Perhaps a Liverpool fan could wish unhappiness on Sergio Ramos and another early Spanish exit but, on the flip side, who wouldn’t want to see Iniesta sign off in style.

Portugal
Ranking: 4th
Qualifying Grade: A

Topped the group with Switzerland on nine wins and one loss, got through on a goal difference of 32 for, four against.

Player to care about
Cristiano Ronaldo – who else? The biggest name in world football, and possibly the biggest ego outside Zlatan. Has been in super form in the second half of the season for Real Madrid, and lifted Portugal to Euro success in 2016. Time to do it at a World Cup now.

World Cup pedigree
This is their fifth World Cup and they finished third in 1966. This is their fifth in a row, but have appeared only twice before 2002.

One reason to care
Like him, love him or hate him, it’s all about Cristiano Ronaldo.

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo scores his side's fourth goal during the World Cup Group B qualifying soccer match between Portugal and Faroe Islands at the Bessa Stadium in Porto, Portugal.

Cristiano Ronaldo in Portugal colours. (AP Photo/Paulo Duarte)

Morocco
Ranking: 42nd
Qualifying Grade: A

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Won Group C featuring Ivory Coast. Won three, drew three. Scored 11 goals in six matches and didn’t concede a single goal.

Player to care about
Medhi Benatia – the Captain and centre back, also plays for Juventus, and has played for Bayern Munich.

World Cup pedigree
Will be their fifth World Cup. The only African team to top a group at the World Cup – in 1986 in Mexico. It was their only year outside the group stages.

One reason to care
Can anyone score against them? Could be a lot of nils.

Iran
Ranking: 36h
Qualifying Grade: A

Topped Group A in Asian Qualifying, without losing a game. Conceded only two goals in ten games, however, the ten scored is a little low.

Player to care about
Sardar Azmoun – this striker has scored 23 Goals in 31 matches for his country, and plies his trade for Rubin Kazan in Russia, giving himself a nice advantage.

World Cup pedigree:
Their fifth World Cup, but have won just one game in the past four tournaments.

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One reason to care
If you love your football defensive and tight, or aren’t looking for a lot of goals, then this is your team.

Stay up
None the – best game is 4am, and staying up is absurd, but not out of the question.

The Prediction
Winner: – SPAIN
Qualify: – PORTUGAL

The best bet
Morocco 0-0 Iran

Group C

This is the big one for Australian football fans, and the recent win over the Czech Republic gives us hope that was otherwise quite low.

It doesn’t help that we have been drawn against the might of France, and the also much higher ranked Denmark and Peru.

Three of these four teams also needed playoffs to make the World Cup, and they conceded the most goals on average of all the Groups in qualifying at a goal per game.

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France
Ranking: 7th
Qualifying Grade: A-

Topped their group and only lost once, but the 18 goals scored in their group is a surprise given their firepower.

Player to care about
Antoine Griezmann – top-scored at the 2016 Euros, and has been a prolific goal scorer for Atletico Madrid. Will no doubt confirm a move to Barcelona on the back of a strong World Cup.

See also: Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante

World Cup pedigree:
Certainly. They won their home tournament in 1998, and were beaten by Italy in the final in 2006 which featured a Zidane headbutt.

One reason to care
They have so many stars to watch, would be great to see Paul Pogba given more freedom than at Man Utd this season. There is also the potential for drama, like their meltdown pre-2010 World Cup which eventuated in them finishing last in their group.

Australia
Ranking: 40th
Qualifying Grade: C-

Made a dog’s breakfast of qualifying, with too many draws and not enough wins. Made the World Cup after home and away playoffs against Syria and Honduras. Have drawn the most number of international games in the last two years of the teams in the World Cup.

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Player to care about
Tim Cahill. There are so many other players that could be chosen, but how much game time Tim Cahill gets is still an indication of how Australia is going. Perhaps he will add to his 100 minutes or so for Millwall this season.

Has a chance to make goal-scoring history by scoring at four consecutive World Cups. Needs to prove he wasn’t included just for service station advertising.

Tim Cahill

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

See also: Aaron Mooy, Mat Ryan, Mile Jedinak, Everyone

World Cup pedigree
This is our fifth World Cup and fourth in a row. Australia have only won twice in the previous World Cups, and haven’t bettered our sensational round-of-16 finish in 2006.

One reason to care
It is Australia and, no matter your expectations, there’s always hope.

Denmark
Ranking: 12th
Qualifying Grade: B

Finished second, but five points behind Poland in a reasonably weak group. Needed a playoff win over Ireland, and beat them handsomely in the second leg.

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Player to care about
Christian Eriksen – has been in sensational form for Spurs this season, and was the man in the playoff against Ireland scoring three goals.

World Cup pedigree
Will be their fifth World Cup. Missed 2006 and 2014 World Cups, but made quarterfinals in 1998. Good 50 per cent win rate at World Cups.

One reason to care
If Eriksen is not enough, what about Kasper Schmeichel? Or Denmark doing it for our very own Princess Mary.

Peru
Ranking: 11th
Qualifying Grade: B-

Finished fifth of the ten teams from South America, needed a two-leg playoff win against New Zealand to go through to the World Cup.

As great as it is to have Peru at their first World Cup since 1982, what a shame it couldn’t be New Zealand and have them meet Australia.

Player to care about
Jefferson Farfan. Experienced striker who plays for Lokomotiv Moscow, and has a good scoring rate for both country and club.

See also: Paolo Guerrero – who recently has a drug ban overturned and can now play at this year’s World Cup.

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World Cup pedigree
Their fifth World Cup, but haven’t been in the greatest show in town since 1982.

One reason to care
Just love their jersey. So simple, yet so so good.

Stay up
Australia vs France (Saturday, June 16, 8pm)
Australia vs Denmark (Thursday, June 21, 10pm)
Australia vs Peru (Wednesday, June 27, 12am)

The Prediction
Winner: France
Qualify: Peru

The best bet
France to win Group C

Group D

The group of death? Well, it starts with D, and has four decent teams in it, so why not?

Argentina
Ranking: 5th
Qualifying Grade: B-

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Finished third in South American qualifying and looked in jeopardy at times, even on the last day. With Messi.

Player to care about
Lionel Messi. Arguably the best player in the World, and only Ronaldo or Zlatan would argue. Has done the job for Barcelona throughout his career, but would love to enhance his legacy with a World Cup win. 64 Goals in 124 games for his nation.

Argentina's Lionel Messi controls the ball during a friendly soccer match between Argentina and Haiti at the Bombonera stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tuesday, May 29, 2018.

Lionel Messi in Argentina colours. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

See also: Sergio Aguero, Nicholas Otamendi.

World Cup pedigree:
Oh yeah. Argentina have won the World Cup twice. Once at home in 1978 and another eight years later in Mexico courtesy of Maradona. Were runners-up to Germany in 2014. Have failed to qualify for the World Cup just four times.

One reason to care
Few could begrudge Messi a World Cup win.

Croatia
Ranking: 18th
Qualifying Grade: B

Finished second in qualifying behind Iceland who, coincidentally, are in the same group. Needed to see off Greece in the playoffs to qualify for the World Cup.

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Player to care about
Luka Modric. The Real Madrid midfielder has really stepped up since leaving Tottenham. Has played 166 games for Real Madrid, and 105 Games for Croatia. Twelve goals is a handy return too.

See also: Ivan Rakitic, Mario Mandzukic, Sime Vrsaljko

World Cup pedigree
This is their fifth World Cup, and they have only missed the 2010 edition. Did finish third at their first attempt in France in 1998, not been past the group stage since.

One reason to care
Could this be a real dark horse for the World Cup?

Nigeria
Ranking: 47th
Qualifying Grade: A-
Won their African qualifying group with a comfortable margin, with reasonable, if not great, statistics.

Player to care about
Alex Iwobi. With a new era about to start at Arsenal, this forward can put on a fine display and enhance his chances at the London club. Scored five times in 18 games for Nigeria.

See Also: Victor Moses

World Cup pedigree
This will be their sixth World Cup, and they have made the round-of-16 level three times in their past five World Cups.

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One reason to care
Poor Nigeria have drawn Argentina four times of their last five World Cups, and are surely due a break. Their jersey was rated 10/10 and sold out in minutes in their homeland.

Iceland
Ranking: 22nd
Qualifying Grade: A

Saw off Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to top their group. Scored a very modest 16 goals in qualifying, and actually had a worse goal difference than second-placed Croatia. But, they are the smallest nation to qualify for a World Cup.

Player to care about
Gylfi Sigurdsson. This midfield maestro didn’t have the most opportunities at Everton this season, so he should be well primed for his World Cup adventure.

See Also – Gunnarsson. Gudmundsson.

World Cup pedigree
This is the very first, and we will support them all the way through.

One reason to care
So many reasons. The newbie. The Viking Clap. And, hopefully, the same commentator who lost his mind and voice at the 2016 Euros.

Stay up
Argentina vs Iceland (Saturday, June 16, 11pm)

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The Prediction
Winner: Argentina
Qualify: Iceland

The best bet
Iceland to qualify