With club football now over, attention turns to the FIFA World Cup 2018.
All 32 teams are battling for the chance to be named the best football country and all eyes will be glued on Russia as the clashes unfold.
Of course, with the teams divided accordingly, there are some interesting storylines within the group, and for this instance, Group A takes center stage.
With the host country as part of the cluster, expect epic clashes against Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Uruguay.
The biggest thing going on for Russia at the moment is that they are playing on home soil which should at least help them play inspired football.
Before, Russia were constantly part of the top teams in Europe, appearing in the semi-finals of the European Championships back in 2008.
Sadly, the team’s quality has fallen drastically and they find themselves ranked the lowest among the other teams in the competition and the fact that they have failed to reach the heights they did back in 2008.
The player to watch out for is goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev as he will wear the captain’s armband and will hope to inspire the club to get some points.
Making their return to the World Cup, Egypt qualified for the first time since their last stint back in 1990.
It seems that the Egyptians have rebounded from poor performances recently as they reached the final of the Africa Cup of Nations after a lengthy absence in the competition. Egypt once dominated that contest from 2012-15 and are hoping that they can continue their improvement in the biggest stage of national football.
Easily, the player to watch out for is Mohamed Salah. During his time with Liverpool, Salah was an unstoppable force as he scored game after game across all competitions.
A shoulder injury saw him leave the UEFA Champions League final against Real Madrid but if the Egyptian phenom can find his form for his country, then Egypt have a chance. He should deliver, as he has done in previous games for ‘The Pharaohs’ – scoring five goals in six games across the final round of qualifiers which include a late penalty that shot the nation to secure a spot in the World Cup.
Influences off the pitch have undoubtedly cast a dark shadow on Saudi Arabia as they try to go through this year’s World Cup.
The team has replaced their coaches twice, first with Bert van Marwijk being replaced by Edgardo Bauza. The former was responsible for leading the team to the World Cup appearance while Bauza was fired after only leading five friendlies with the teams.
Juan Antonio Pizzi is now tasked to help the team advance deep in the competition but the sort turnaround time might prove too much pressure to result in anything significant.
Striker Mohammad Al-Sahlawi (Al Nassr) should be the team’s main focus and he should perform in front of goal to lead the line for the Saudi Arabians.
Undoubtedly the favourites in Group A, Uruguay are expected to finish at the top of the cluster.
The team boasts an impressive line-up of experienced stars, but they have been helped by young upstarts making their name for the country.
Players like Luis Suarez and Diego Godin should still play big roles as Uruguay try and get victories in the group, but there are youngsters like Federico Valverde and Nahitan Nandez who have been featured as starters in recent matches under coach Oscar Tabarez.
With all these names, striker Edinson Cavani is likely still the person to watch as he operates in front of goal for the Uruguayans. He was the top goal-scorer in the South American qualifiers, netting 10 goals in 18 matches and should be troublesome for the defenders in the group.
TEAMS TO GO THROUGH
Among the four teams, only Uruguay appear to have a solid grasp of the competition and are likely to finish as the top spot in Group A.
Russia should play inspired football, but that does not mean that they will finish the games with maximum points.
Saudi are also likely to struggle under new management and a different system, which means that Egypt may secure the second spot and reach the last-16.