Russia impressed in St. Petersburg as they cruised to a 3-1 over an overwhelmed Egyptian side that, even with the help of a returning Mohamed Salah, were incapable of hanging with the hosts’ long ball tactics and physicality. In the buildup to this match, soccer analysts and fans alike all pondered the fitness of the Liverpool forward, wondering whether he would be relegated to another 90 minutes on the bench as he was in the Pharaoh’s first match against Uruguay. A collective social media explosion ensued when Salah’s name flashed across our screens, finally confirming his return to the starting 11. That’s about where the Salah conversation starts and ends; even as he was able to score a penalty after Egypt had conceded 3 goals, the scintillating Russian offense forced the spotlight off of the Liverpudlian.
Dzyuba, Cheryshev and Golovin Pick up From Where They Left Off
After opening the tournament with a 5-0 demolition of Saudi Arabia, this Russia team had to be riding a wave of confidence and pride. Egypt are obviously a more dogged defensive side than Saudi Arabia – the Pharaohs did keep both Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani off the scoresheet – but Russia decided to match them strength for strength. After scoring as a substitute against Saudi Arabia, striker Artem Dzyuba used his size and hold up play to be a constant threat to the Egyptian back line. His mere presence in the box resulted in Russia’s opener, as Ahmed Fahti was too preoccupied with nullifying the towering Russian resulting in his botched clearance ending up in the back of the net. Dzyuba was on hand again to retrieve a long ball from deep in midfield, controlling it with his chest to convert from inside the box for goal number 3. Villareal winger Denis Cheryshev brought his goal tally up to three, tying Cristiano Ronaldo for the Golden Boot, as he was another substitute from the Saudi Arabia game who earned his place in the starting 11. His link up play with Alexandr Golovin and Dzyuba was electric, and he retrieved a pass from right back Mario Fernandes to double the lead. Russian supporters deserve to be fired up about their team. Over their first two match they’ve played some enthralling attacking soccer, scoring 8 unanswered goals in the process; however, this excitement shouldn’t turn into complacency. In the round of 16 Russia will surely come up against a top side, with players far beyond the quality of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and then the real test of the hosts’ confidence and ability will begin. But for the team that came into this tournament with the second lowest ranking, they have exceeded expectations.
A Sorrowful Farewell to The Pharaohs
There’s an underlying sense of injustice surrounding Egypt’s World Cup campaign so far. Their talismanic attacker Salah suffers a shoulder injury 3 weeks before the tournament in the Champions League final, and in their first match they suffer a heartbreaking defeat to Uruguay after defending so well throughout the match. Unfortunately, even with their hardships, Egypt’s supporting cast of players hasn’t lived up to billing. Attackers Trezeguet and Abdallah El Said failed to produce anything against Uruguay, and lacked creativity and clinical finishing against Russia. Defenders Ahmed Hegazy and Ali Gabr, two Premier League quality center backs, looked overwhelmed by the pace of Russia’s attack and lacked the backbone to stop goals from leaking in. Sure, they always faced an uphill battle with Salah not being 100 percent fit, but even when they were graced with his presence, the Liverpool winger was left with no one to pass to or anyone to support him. Hopefully the Pharaohs can collect 3 points against Saudi Arabia and end their tournament on a high, but they have certainly been a disappointment.