The four-year countdown is over, the World Cup finally kicks off on Thursday and it promises to be yet another scintillating tournament.

Group A contains Uruguay, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the host nation Russia

Sportsmail’s MARTIN KEOWN gives his rundown of each team in Group A, including the manager, the man to watch out for, their strength and their biggest weakness.  

 

URUGUAY

FIFA ranking: 14 Odds: 28-1 

World Cup best: Two-time winners (1930, 1950)

THE BOSS: Oscar Tabarez

The 71-year-old is at his fourth World Cup with Uruguay, reaching the semi-finals in 2010. 

THE STAR: Edinson Cavani 

This forward’s movement has always impressed me, while he has formed a fearsome partnership with Luis Suarez. There should be plenty of goals for him in this group.

THE PROSPECT: Rodrigo Bentancur 

Box-to-box midfielder, 20, who did the Double with Juventus this season. Has made that role his own for Uruguay in the last year.

KEY STRENGTH

Not only are they prolific in attack, Uruguay have rock-solid Atletico Madrid pair Jose Gimenez and Diego Godin at the heart of their defence. 

BIGGEST WEAKNESS

Uruguay will be hoping Suarez stays out of trouble after his two controversial World Cups.  

There should be plenty of goals for Edinson Cavani in this group if he performs

There should be plenty of goals for Edinson Cavani in this group if he performs

There should be plenty of goals for Edinson Cavani in this group if he performs

EGYPT

FIFA ranking: 45 Odds: 250-1

World Cup best: Group stage (1934, 1990)

THE BOSS: Hector Cuper 

Experienced Argentinian who reached the Champions League final twice with Valencia. 

THE STAR: Mohamed Salah

Such is the Liverpool star’s status in Egypt that he was runner-up in their 2018 presidential election. The nation will be willing him to quickly recover from his shoulder injury. 

THE PROSPECT: Trezeguet 

Not the ex-France striker but midfielder Mahmoud Hassan, 23, who has taken the World Cup winner’s name because of the pair’s striking resemblance. 

KEY STRENGTH

Egypt rode to their first World Cup since 1990 on a tide of emotion. They must harness that positive energy if they are to get out of this group.

BIGGEST WEAKNESS 

Everything hinges on Salah’s fitness. He is a hero to Egypt but if he fails to recover from injury, it’s hard to see them going far.  

Such is Mohamed Salah’s status in Egypt he was runner-up in their 2018 presidential election

RUSSIA

FIFA ranking: 70 Odds: 50-1

World Cup best: Fourth place (1966, AS USSR)

THE BOSS: Stanislav Cherchesov 

Former Legia Warsaw boss took charge after Russia’s poor Euro 2016. 

THE STAR: Igor Akinfeev 

Seasoned CSKA Moscow keeper will need all his experience to shut out the hotshots in this group. 

THE PROSPECT: Fyodor Smolov 

Scored 14 goals in 22 games for Krasnodar, attracting interest from Wolves and West Ham. 

KEY STRENGTH

Do not underestimate home advantage. This is not a great Russia team but this tournament could be a stepping stone. 

BIGGEST WEAKNESS

None of this squad have tasted much success at the World Cup. Russia have not reached the round of 16 since 1986. 

SAUDI ARABIA

FIFA ranking: 67 Odds: 2,000-1 

World Cup best: Last 16 (1994)

THE BOSS: Juan Antonio Pizzi 

Took the reins in November after failing to qualify as Chile boss. 

THE STAR: Mohammad Al-Sahlawi 

The striker trained with Manchester United before the tournament. 

THE PROSPECT: Fahad Al-Muwallad 

The 5ft 6in Levante winger is the first Saudi to play in La Liga. 

KEY STRENGTH

With most of the squad based at home, three players have gone on loan to Spain to gain big-league experience. 

BIGGEST WEAKNESS  

Instability. They are on to their third boss in just 10 months after the departures of Bert van Marwijk then Edgardo Bauza. 

Striker Mohammad Al-Sahlawi trained with Manchester United before the tournament

Striker Mohammad Al-Sahlawi trained with Manchester United before the tournament

Striker Mohammad Al-Sahlawi trained with Manchester United before the tournament

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