Egypt and Uruguay clash in their Group A opener at the multi-purpose Ekaterinburg Arena in Yekaterinburg on Friday lunchtime (16:00 UAE time).
The Pharaohs are contesting their first World Cup since 1990 and will feel a wealth of support, as well as expectation, from their passionate Arab fanbase.
For Uruguay, who are of course two-time winners of football’s biggest trophy (1930 and 1950), the South American nation will be optimistic about going one further than their last-16 showing four years ago.
Here, we analyse the key talking points ahead of their clash in a competitive group also featuring hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Will Mohamed Salah feature?
This is the golden question no one quite knows the answer to yet, perhaps even those inside the Egypt camp.
The Liverpool star has been put through his paces by the team’s physio team at their Akhmat Arena stadium base in Grozny and has responded very well to treatment for the shoulder injury he sustained in the Champions League final against Real Madrid.
However, he did take some part in Wednesday’s training session, for the most part, he has been training alone.
It remains to be seen whether Egypt will risk fielding their best player when not fully fit.
The challenge of facing Uruguay is arguably the toughest within Group A and Egypt may feel Salah would benefit from more rest and recovery in order to be firing for their match on June 19 against Russia.
That may be a wise call and it is perhaps a bonus for Egypt, in the meantime, considering they have been able to plan as if the 25-year-old would not be available for the opener for over a month.
Despite a disappointing season with Stoke City, new Huddersfield Town recruit Ramadan Sobhi should step into Salah’s boots on the right-flank.
The Luis Suarez factor
Simply put, if the Barcelona star fires at the top of the pitch – Uruguay win the match.
Alongside Paris Saint-Germain star Edinson Cavani, the experienced duo have formed a clinical and telepathic understanding. The two combined brilliantly as Suarez scored during last Thursday night’s 3-0 World Cup warm-up friendly victory over Uzbekistan.
At 31, the former Kop idol loves proving his doubters wrong and 34 goals last term for the Blaugrana was evidence his powers haven’t waned significantly.
Suarez, a veteran of 98 caps and 51 goals for his country, will want to cash in on what will likely be his final World Cup.
Is this match-up a clash of one and two in Group A?
Both of these teams are widely tipped to progress to the second round of the tournament, with Uruguay the favourites to top proceedings and Egypt to clinch second spot.
Hector Cuper’s side will feel as though matches to come against Russia and Arab rivals Saudi Arabia are more winnable, especially if Salah is back for then, so they could in theory set their stall out for a draw on Friday.
For Le Celeste, they will be confident of overpowering Egypt and laying one hand on top having carried good momentum from a fruitful South American qualifying campaign which saw them pip Argentina into second place.
It is being claimed that Julen Lopetegui could sensationally be sacked by Spain on the eve of the 2018 World Cup – with Tuesday’s announcement of him agreeing to take over as Real Madrid coach believed to be the underlying reason.
The Spanish FA (RFEF) and in particular the federation’s new president, Luis Rubiales, are thought to be furious with the way that Lopetegui has handled this situation.
Multiple reports on Tuesday night claimed Rubiales felt ‘betrayed’ by Lopetegui’s decision and was angered to only find out five minutes before Madrid announced the hire.
The Independent claims that Rubiales and the RFEF are set to act, with an emergency press conference being hastily arranged for Wednesday.
Rubiales flew back from the FIFA congress in Moscow late on Tuesday night to Krasnodar, where the Spanish squad are based.
Spain’s sporting director Fernando Hierro and Spanish Under-21 coach Albert Celades are reportedly in the frame to step into Lopetegui’s shoes to lead La Roja in Russia if the news is confirmed.
More to follow…
Hosts Russia will bring up the curtain on the 2018 World Cup when they take on Saudi Arabia in Moscow on June 14.
Here is a full schedule of the matches and UAE times.
Thursday 14 June
Russia vs Saudi Arabia (Group A) – Moscow (Luzhniki) – 19:00
Friday 15 June
Saturday 16 June
France vs Australia (Group C) – Kazan – 14:00
Argentina vs Iceland (Group D) – Moscow (Spartak) – 17:00
Peru vs Denmark (Group C) – Saransk – 20:00
Croatia vs Nigeria (Group D) – Kaliningrad – 23:00
Sunday 17 June
Costa Rica vs Serbia (Group E) – Samara – 16:00
Germany vs Mexico (Group F) – Moscow (Luzhniki) – 19:00
Brazil vs Switzerland (Group E) – Rostov-on-Don – 22:00
Monday 18 June
Sweden vs South Korea (Group F) – Nizhny Novgorod – 16:00
Belgium vs Panama (Group G) – Sochi – 19:00
Tunisia vs England (Group G) – Volgograd – 22:00
Tuesday 19 June
Colombia vs Japan (Group H) – Saransk – 16:00
Poland vs Senegal (Group H) – Moscow (Spartak) – 19:00
Russia vs Egypt (Group A) – St Petersburg – 22:00
Wednesday 20 June
Portugal vs Morocco (Group B) – Moscow (Luzhniki) – 16:00
Uruguay vs Saudi Arabia (Group A) – Rostov-on-Don – 19:00
Iran vs Spain (Group B) – Kazan – 22:00
Thursday 21 June
Denmark vs Australia (Group C) – Samara – 16:00
France vs Peru (Group C) – Ekaterinburg – 19:00
Argentina vs Croatia (Group D) – Nizhny Novgorod – 22:00
Friday 22 June
Brazil vs Costa Rica (Group E) – St Petersburg – 16:00
Nigeria vs Iceland (Group D) – Volgograd – 19:00
Serbia vs Switzerland (Group E) – Kaliningrad – 22:00
Saturday 23 June
Belgium vs Tunisia (Group G) – Moscow (Spartak) – 16:00
South Korea vs Mexico (Group F) – Rostov-on-Don – 19:00
Germany v Sweden (Group F) – Sochi – 22:00
Sunday 24 June
England vs Panama (Group G) – Nizhny Novgorod – 16:00
Japan vs Senegal (Group H) – Ekaterinburg – 19:00
Poland vs Colombia (Group H) – Kazan – 22:00
Monday 25 June
Uruguay vs Russia (Group A) – Samara – 18:00
Saudi Arabia vs Egypt (Group A) – Volgograd – 18:00
Spain vs Morocco (Group B) – Kaliningrad – 22:00
Iran vs Portugal (Group B) – Saransk – 22:00
Tuesday 26 June
Denmark vs France (Group C) – Moscow (Luzhniki) – 18:00
Australia vs Peru (Group C) – Sochi – 18:00
Nigeria vs Argentina (Group D) – St Petersburg – 22:00
Iceland vs Croatia (Group D) – Rostov-on-Don – 22:00
Wednesday 27 June
South Korea vs Germany (Group F) – Kazan – 18:00
Mexico vs Sweden (Group F) – Ekaterinburg – 18:00
Serbia vs Brazil (Group E) – Moscow (Spartak) – 22:00
Switzerland vs Costa Rica (Group E) – Nizhny Novgorod – 22:00
Thursday 28 June
Japan vs Poland (Group H) – Volgograd – 18:00
Senegal vs Colombia (Group H) – Samara – 18:00
England vs Belgium (Group G) – Kaliningrad – 22:00
Panama vs Tunisia (Group G) – Saransk – 22:00
Round of 16
Saturday 30 June
Group C winner vs Group D runner-up – Kazan, 18:00 (Match 50)
Group A winner vs Group B runner-up- Sochi, 22:00 (Match 49)
Sunday 1 July
Group B winner vs Group A runner-up- Moscow (Luzhniki), 18:00 (Match 51)
Group D winner vs Group C runner-up – Nizhny Novgorod, 22:00 (Match 52)
Monday 2 July
Group E winner vs Group F runner-up – Samara, 18:00 (Match 53)
Group G winner vs Group H runner-up – Rostov-on-Don, 22:00 (Match 54)
Tuesday 3 July
Group F winner vs Group E runner-up – St Petersburg 18:00 (Match 55)
Group H winner vs Group G runner-up – Moscow (Spartak), 22:00 (Match 56)
Friday 6 July
Winner match 49 vs Winner match 50 – Nizhny Novgorod, 18:00 (Match 57)
Winner match 53 vs Winner match 54 – Kazan, 22:00 (Match 58)
Saturday 7 July
Winner match 55 vs Winner match 56 – Samara, 18:00 (Match 60)
Winner match 51 vs Winner match 52 – Sochi, 22:00 (Match 59)
Tuesday 10 July
Winner match 57 vs Winner match 58 – St Petersburg, 22:00 (Match 61)
Wednesday 11 July
Winner match 59 vs Winner match 60 – Moscow (Luzhniki), 22:00 (Match 62)
Third place play-off
Saturday 14 July
Loser match 61 vs Loser match 62 – St Petersburg, 18:00
Sunday 15 July
Moscow (Luzhniki), 19:00