Paul Higham is not expecting a feast of goals as Uruguay faces hosts Russia for top spot in Group A while Egypt and Saudi Arabia look to avoid the wooden spoon.
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- Uruguay 1-0 Russia
- Saudi Arabia 0-0 Egypt
Uruguay v Russia (1500 BST - ITV)
These two play for top spot as many expected, but not many expected the hosts to have blasted Egypt and Saudi Arabia away scoring eight goals in the process, while Uruguay squeezed out to 1-0 wins for their six points.
The result is that Russia need just a draw to confirm top spot, and with Uruguay’s first thought always to avoid defeat then the general 21/10 for a stalemate seems a sensible way forward.
Unless Iran pull off something special, it will be Spain and Portugal waiting in the next round so it’s debatable whether coming top actually matters – but to Russian fans in particular beating Luis Suarez and friends to top spot would be a huge boost going into the knockout stages.
The Russians have surprised everyone with their pace, passion and effervescent attacking, but it’s unlikely Uruguay’s stingy, streetwise defensive style will allow them to run free in the way Saudi Arabia and Egypt did.
Neither side will want to lose and it could be a bit of a stand-off as a result, I don’t expect a classic by any means. Preference for a winner, if there is one, has to be Uruguay given their obvious talent advantage – they’re a best-priced 5/3 but you’re just as well taking the 3/1 Sky Bet offer on them to win to nil given their defence prowess.
They’ve won six of their last 18 victories 1-0 and that’s what I’d be taking at 13/2 best price for predicting a score. While a full-time draw is in the balance, a 0-0 scoreline at half time is more appealing coming in at 13/10.
Building on that premise, 5/4 on the second half having more goals is one to look at, as is 7/5 with Betway for the last goal to come from 76 minutes until full time – there’s been a glut of late goals in this tournament and this game is primed for one.
Prediction: Uruguay 1-0 Russia (Sky Bet odds: 11/2)
Best Bet: Uruguay to win to nil at 3/1
- Russia have won six of their eight meetings against Uruguay (D1 L1; includes games as the Soviet Union). However, both nations have a win apiece at World Cup finals.
- Russia have scored more goals in this World Cup (8) than they had in their previous two World Cup tournaments combined (6, across 2002 and 2014).
- Each of the last three European host nations of a World Cup prior to 2018 have won all three of their group stage games (Germany 2006, France 1998, Italy 1990).
- Russia have a positive goal difference of +7 in their opening two World Cup matches in the 2018 tournament. All three of the previous host nations to have a +5 goal difference or more in their opening two games of that World Cup have gone on to win the tournament: France (+7) in 1998, Italy (+6) in 1934 and Uruguay (+5) in 1930.
- Denis Cheryshev is Russia’s top scorer in the tournament with three goals – prior to their opener against Saudi Arabia, he had failed to find the net in 11 appearances for the national team.
- Russia have had four different scorers in the tournament so far (Gazinskiy, Cheryshev, Dzyuba and Golovin) – twice as many as they did in the entire 2014 edition in Brazil.
Saudi Arabia v Egypt (1500 BST - ITV4)
It’s the deadest of dead rubber matches in Group A that will grace the screens of ITV4 while the big boys fight for the group on the main channel. Few will be bothered about this one outside of Saudi Arabia or Egypt – but for both it represents a chance of rare World Cup points.
They’ve just mustered one goal between them in two games resulting in the general 8/11 on under 2.5 goals looking nailed-on with seemingly only a half-fit Mohamed Salah capable of finding the net.
13/5 on the draw is screaming out as you wonder just how much these two will have left to give, but it could just be that a goal ether way ends up settling it.
Saudi Arabia vastly improved in the second game from their first but are still nothing to write home about, and while Egypt have more quality players in their ranks they’ll still be smarting after heading to Russia with high hopes but watching those hopes go down in flames.
With a gun to my head I’d give Egypt the edge but the safest play is to side with the draw, while siding with both teams not to score at 4/5.
Prediction: Saudi Arabia 0-0 Egypt (Sky Bet odds: 9/1)
- This is the first encounter between Saudi Arabia and Egypt at a tournament since the 1999 Confederations Cup – the Saudis won 5-1 thanks in part to four goals from Marzouk Al-Otaibi and Egypt receiving three red cards.
- Each of the last eight goals Egypt have conceded in the World Cup have come in the second half of matches.
- Egypt haven’t won any of their six World Cup matches (W0 D2 L4). The only nation to play more games in the competition without ever recording a victory are Honduras (nine games).
- Defeat for either Saudi Arabia or Egypt in this game would see them be the first team to lose all three group games in this tournament, and the first to lose all three group games at a World Cup since Honduras in 2014.
- Saudi Arabia are yet to score a goal at the 2018 World Cup – there have only been 11 previous occasions of teams failing to score at a World Cup finals tournament in 3+ games, with Honduras and Algeria the last teams to do this in 2010.
- Saudi Arabia are now winless in their last 12 World Cup matches (W0 D2 L10) and they have lost their last four games in the competition without scoring a single goal.
- Since joining Liverpool in July 2017, Egyptian forward Mohamed Salah has scored 49 goals in 57 appearances for club and country in all competitions.
- Egypt’s Mohamed Salah scored with his only shot on target in a World Cup match in their defeat against Russia last time out.
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