GROUP A

Houston Chronicle - - SOCCER -

Pre­dicted order of fin­ish: Uruguay, Egypt, Russia, Saudi Ara­bia.

Out­look: Russia is not the fa­vorite in this four­some, but as the home team, all eyes will turn its way. So where do Russia’s hopes and dreams lie? Or, given its dearth of suc­cess in ma­jor com­pe­ti­tions since the Soviet Union col­lapsed, where do they die?

Sev­eral Rus­sian reg­u­lars are side­lined with in­juries, and only one is a full-time starter in a ma­jor league out­side Russia. Vic­tory over the Saudis in the opener would boost morale, but the team would still need be­tween one and three points against Uruguay and Egypt.

Which brings us to the fa­vorite, Uruguay, which fin­ished sec­ond to Brazil in South Amer­ica’s rugged qual­i­fy­ing com­pe­ti­tion. There aren’t many scor­ing tandems in the world with the ruth­less­ness of Edin­son Ca­vani (Paris Sain­tGer­main) and Luis Suarez (Barcelona). They ar­rived at train­ing camp after post­ing a com­bined 71 goals in 99 matches across all com­pe­ti­tions for their tro­phy-win­ning clubs this past sea­son. Their joint in­ter­na­tional port­fo­lio is ap­proach­ing 100 ca­reer goals.

Egypt’s hopes rest with Mohamed Salah, the in­spi­ra­tional and clin­i­cal at­tacker for Liver­pool (44 goals in all com­pe­ti­tions). If Salah re­gains full strength after suf­fer­ing a shoul­der in­jury in the UEFA Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal against Real Madrid, the Pharaohs could very much revel in their first ap­pear­ance since 1990.

Saudi Ara­bia’s high point came in the 1994 World Cup with a stun­ner against Bel­gium and a place in the round of 16. Since then, the Saudis have ei­ther failed to qual­ify or been among the tour­na­ment’s worst teams. Most of the squad ar­rives from two top clubs in the do­mes­tic league, Al-Hi­lal and Al-Ahli, plus three play­ers from the Span­ish cir­cuit.

Matilde Cam­podon­ico / As­so­ci­ated Press

Uruguay’s Edin­son Ca­vani forms a dy­namic duo with Luis Suarez.

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