World Cup 2018 started on Thursday with Russia blasting Saudi Arabia 5-0 to take a commanding lead in Group A in the only game of the day. Well friends, it is now time to dig in and hunker down. We have at least three and often four games every day until the group phase ends on June 28th. Today sees one Group A game and both Group B first round matches.
Time: 5:00 AM
Location: Ekaterinburg Arena, Ekaterinburg
TV: Fox Sports 1 (English) and Telemundo (Spanish)
Announcing team: Mark Followill and Warren Barton (English)
With Russia winning in an impressive 5-0 performance over Saudi Arabia yesterday effectively putting their marker down for the goal differential tiebreaker, this match just became much more important.
Egypt’s World Cup preparation has been dominated with the story of Mohamed Salah, will he play or won’t he? Salah was enjoying one of the legendary seasons in the lore of the English leagues, leading Liverpool to the Champions League final and setting the 38 game single season Premier League goal scoring record with 32 goals scored before his shoulder was injured early on in the first half of the Champions League final and had to be subbed off. Reports out of Egypt camp are that Salah will play, but how effective will he be?
This will be Egypt’s first World Cup Finals match since Italia 1990, they have come close to qualifying multiple times including a playoff loss for Brazil 2014 under manager Bob Bradley and have won four African Cup of Nations tournaments (1998, 2006, 2008 and 2010) over that stretch.
Uruguay are a darkhorse to make a deep run in Russia led by the prolific strike duo of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani but in a weird quirk of statistical oddities, they have not won a World Cup opener since 1970. They have earned three draws and three losses in the six World Cups they qualified for over that stretch. If Uruguay are to start slow, do not discount the South American squad with winnable games over Saudi Arabia and hosts Russia still on the schedule.
Time: 8:00 AM
Location: Saint Petersburg Stadium, St. Petersburg
TV: FOX (English) and Telemundo (Spanish)
Announcing team: Derek Rae and Aly Wagner (English)
Morocco have not played in the World Cup since France 1998, but they have high hopes to sneak in ahead of Portugal into the knockout rounds. While Iran will be looking to avoid an ignominious start by the Asian Football Conference (AFC) after Saudi Arabia was ran off the field in the opener against Russia.
Aly Wagner joins Derek Rae on commentary for this match. Wagner will be the first female game analyst on American television when this game commences. Wagner was on the call for Canada 2015 Women’s World Cup broadcast on Fox and was great, look for her to continue to win over the American soccer crowd.
Spain vs. Portugal
Time: 11:00 AM
Location: Fisht Stadium, Sochi
TV: FOX (English) and Telemundo (Spanish)
Announcing team: John Strong and Stu Holden (English)
Where to start?
Portugal are the reigning European Champions and boast arguably one of the best players of all time in Cristiano Ronaldo who at 33 years old is likely in his last World Cup where he will play a starring role and Ronaldo is coming into the tournament off an unprecedented third UEFA Champions League title in a row with Real Madrid.
But Portugal are barely an afterthought in this match.
Becuase Spain fired their manager, Julen Lopetegui, two days before their World Cup kicks off. Lopetegui committed to taking the Real Madrid job recently vacated by Zinedine Zidane AFTER the World Cup, but the Spanish football association took issue with the timing of the announcement and made an immediate change. There were reports of a player revolt led by Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos to keep the manager regardless of his post World Cup plans. But Lopetegui chose to not continue in his role and Fernando Hierro was appointed manager for the World Cup. Lopetegui was undefeated as Spain manager since taking over in 2016 and lead Spain through a smooth qualification campaign, in fact Spain is so highly regarded they were one of the top three to six betting favorites to lift the Cup. Before the change of course.