FIFA World Cup

Fifa World Cup, Group A: Experienced Uruguay expected to shine, Egypt sweat over Salah’s fitness

If they hit their stride, Luis Suarez and co have a very good chance of going deep into the tournament.

It is the group featuring the hosts, who will begin proceedings against Saudi Arabia at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow. The past and the present of Liverpool will also be in focus with Luis Suarez’s Uruguay and Mohamed Salah’s Egypt completing the group.

For the home support, who are enjoying a World Cup at home for the first time, the expectations are muted. Their form in recent tournaments is nothing to boast of. But history shows that the hosts have managed to have a good run, more often than not.

Group A: Egypt, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Uruguay

Russia

Russia host a World Cup for the first time and they have their task cut out for a place in the knockout stages. Never in their history have they progressed past the group stages. Their Confederations Cup campaign last year also ended on a whimper.

However, the Euros two years ago showed that Stanislav Cherchesov’s side have resilience in their ranks. The challenge now is to use home support to their advantage, something that many a host from the past has done. Their form going into the tournament is nothing to boast about. Russia have been going through a wretched run of form during the friendlies leading up to the event.

Their fortunes in the tournament will depend on how they can handle the Egypt and Uruguay ties.

Key player: Fyodor Smolov

Picture Courtesy: Reuters
Picture Courtesy: Reuters

Smolov is a late bloomer and can be deadly on the counter-attack. His form also depends on how well midfielder Alan Dzagoev links up with him up front.

World Cup record: This is only Russia’s fourth World Cup. The three other times they participated – 1994, 2002 and 2014 – they exited in the group stage.

Prediction: With Mohamed Salah’s fitness being a worry for Egypt and Uruguay expected to top the group, Russia will just sneak into the knockout stages.

Egypt

It’s Argentina and Portugal all over again. One player is bigger than the team here and the world awaits with bated breath over Salah’s fitness. The Liverpool winger was injured in the Champions League final against Real Madrid and is still on the road to recovery.

The Pharaohs, record seven-time African champions, have qualified for the World Cup for only the third time. They begin their Russian campaign on June 15 against twice former winners Uruguay.

The Egyptian football federation said after Salah’s injury that he could be out for three weeks, meaning he would miss their opening Group A match but could then be available against Russia on June 19 and Saudi Arabia on June 25.

Supporters at the Cairo ground, waving the national flag, also yelled enthusiastic approval for the team’s other star players – goalkeeper Essam El Hadary and midfielder Abdallah El Said.

It was Salah who fired Egypt into the World Cup and rightfully, been selected as one of the stars to light up the tournament. Despite club loyalties, the whole of Egypt unites while watching Liverpool’s games. But there is more to this side than just Salah. They have earned what is only their third World Cup in their history.

Several of their players ply their trade in England and have one of the most experienced managers in the game, Hector Cuper. Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny is another player that will be keenly watched during the tournament.

Key player: Mohamed Salah

Image credit: Reuters
Image credit: Reuters

The 25-year-old’s incredible goal tally is not just limited to Liverpool, where he smashed 44 in all competitions this season. With 33 goals, Salah is well on his way to becoming his country’s top-scorer someday. Will he be fit? The World Cup will be poorer without the flying winger’s presence.

He has been picked for the World Cup squad despite having been forced out of the Liverpool’s 3-1 Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid in tears clutching his left shoulder.

Many of his fans had feared he would miss the World Cup altogether, but his appearance in Cairo has reignited expectations in The Pharaohs’ key striker.

World Cup record:

Egypt made history in 1934 when they became the first African side to play in the World Cup. Their next appearance was in Italy 1990. After a 28-year break, Egypt are back in the mix again. They have not progressed past the group stage.

Prediction: Salah might not hit the heights of the recently concluded season. Egypt don’t have many potent goalscorers in their ranks, and that will be the reason why they might narrowly lose out for a place in the last-16. Their pre-tournament form is nothing to boast about, and have struggled to win games.

Uruguay

Uruguay faltered in the last World Cup after reviving their fortunes in the 2010 edition, where they reached the semi-finals. Can two-time champions repeat the feat this time around? That can be pinned down to how their star strikers Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez perform in front of goal.

There are many from the current squad who played in the World Cup eight years ago. Four of their players have more than 100 caps. Goalkeeper Fernando Muslera and Suarez should also join the list during the course of the World Cup. There is a vast amount of experience in the squad. And stability too with wily old horse Oscar Tabarez still in charge.

Key player: Luis Suarez

Image credit: Reuters
Image credit: Reuters

It is strange to pick Suarez over Cavani as it is Paris Saint-German’s all-time top scorer who had the better season, and was instrumental in his side reaching the tournament. Cavani topped the qualifying charts with 10 goals.

Suarez, though, is a match-winner and change the course of proceedings in the blink of an eye. The Barcelona forward has seldom not turned up for his country and will be eyeing for an image makeover. One of the defining moments of the previous World Cup was Suarez biting Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini from the back – he got a lengthy suspension for his act.

World Cup record:

Being the inaugural winners in 1930 and pulling off one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history, beating Brazil in the 1950 final, Uruguay have a glittering history to boast of. This is their third consecutive campaign.

Prediction:

Uruguay look well set to go deep into the tournament. Quarter-finals should be a bare minimum for this side.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia may not have pedigree to match up to say, Uruguay, but have produced one of the greatest World Cup moments with Saeed Al-Owairan almost doing a Diego Maradona in 1994. Seldom has anyone from the Gulf nation come close to matching that piece of individual brilliance. They finished second in Asian qualifying behind Japan and even registered a win over the latter.

However, it will come as a surprise if they get anything from this as the rest of the teams in the group would have identified them as whipping boys. As a part of their preparation, nine Saudi players, loaned to Spanish clubs to improve their level before the World Cup left without hardly playing in what ended up as a “fiasco”.

They will have identified the match against Egypt as their most likely chance to get something out of the group stages.

Key player: Salman Al-Dawsari

Salman Al-Dawsari played for Villarreal this season and played a important hand in earning his side a draw against Real Madrid. His side was 0-2 down when Dawsari entered as a substitute.

World Cup history:

Saudi Arabia were Asian Cup winners in 1984, 1988, 1996 and were Confederations Cup runners-up in 1992. The Saudi’s missed out on the 2010 and 2014 editions after playing four consecutive editions.

Prediction: Saudi Arabia will struggle to get a point on the board.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.