In 23 days — just over three weeks — Russia 2018 will kick off, and the world will watch with bated breath. The USMNT will be absent, and I am in no mood to beat that dead horse any further. As much as I had hoped that the Yanks would be there, I have certainly made it known that there are other countries that I root for, just as feverishly as I would have for the red, white, and blue.
What seriously piques my interest now is even more selfish. In case you didn’t know, two of Orlando City’s own have made their way to begin training for country, and as much as I do not want either of them to miss a single match for club, I will be rooting them on the world stage.
Yoshimar Yotún and Amro Tarek have each left the Sunshine State to be with their respective national teams. If you don’t know, Yoshi has left to represent Peru, and Tarek left to represent Egypt. As of this writing, I think it is beyond certain that Yoshi will make the final Peruvian roster for Russia. Amro, who is on the preliminary roster for Egypt, is not quite as certain, but with his level of play over the past couple months he has certainly staked his claim to a spot and is making a wonderful case for himself. Regardless of how each is playing currently, how do the respective groups look for each? How long could each be gone from club while making a name for country on the world’s biggest stage?
Taking a look at Tarek and Egypt first, the very first thing you need to know is the roster.
One big thing to realize is Egypt has this guy named Mohamed Salah up top. This guy is no big deal, just the English Premier League Golden Boot winner this season. Egypt drew Group A along with host Russia, Uruguay, and Saudi Arabia. What might shock some folks here is that in terms of FIFA rankings, Egypt is actually the second-highest ranked team in the group at No. 46. Uruguay is currently ranked 17th, with Russia ranked 66th, and Saudi Arabia ranked 67th. The home team fever will certainly give Russia an advantage in every match, and the host country typically makes it through the group stages, but this group could pose a major threat to the host nation.
Uruguay is the easy pick to make it through to the knockout rounds, but the honest pick for me and many pundits I have seen online is Egypt. Salah is on an absolute tear right now, and he alone could possibly carry the Pharaohs through to the knockout round. If Tarek does get the nod for Egypt, there is a very good chance that he will be be gone for longer than just the group stage and, as much as it will hurt considering we don’t know when Jonathan Spector will return, nothing will quite energize a player like World Cup soccer.
Yoshi and Peru, however, have — at least on paper — what appears to be a much easier ticket to punch to get to the knockout stages. Peru drew Group C with France, Australia, and Denmark. This group holds three top-20 FIFA teams, with France currently ranked No. 7, Peru ranked 10th, Denmark sitting 19th, and Australia ranked 43rd. France is France, and I think everyone would pick them to advance, unless there is some absolutely strange Zinedine Zidane-type moment.
The rest will be up to Peru. I think they stand the best chance to advance of the remaining teams, but when you have two teams ranked so closely, in addition to a dark-horse team, weird things can happen.
Assuming each gets through to the knockouts, what does it look like then? Peru would most likely advance as the runner-up of the group, meaning it would face the winners of Group D. That team would most likely be Argentina. Egypt, like Peru, would most likely advance as the runner-up, leading to a match-up against either Spain or Portugal. Personally, I would love to see Egypt face off against Portugal and send Cristiano Ronaldo packing, but that is just me. Strange things happen at the World Cup, and I am convinced they will happen again this year.
I think we all can admit it, country comes before club. It is the highest honor a footballer can have, being called up to play for the nation they call home. As bitter of a pill as it is to swallow for the club fans, we should get behind our Lions as they suit up for their countries. The World Cup is that one tournament where politics, religion, and all of those other things that you are not supposed to discuss at the bar get tossed out the window and everyone bellied up can make their case.
With no Stars & Stripes to support, why not throw some support to your club players who may not be helping locally, but are certainly helping from afar? I can guarantee you the boys in the Orlando City locker room are watching their teammates and cheering on their brothers from Egypt and Peru.
I got the Pharaohs going to the quarters...fight me.