Five goals to Saudi Arabia, three to Egypt. The Russians are scary, and de facto put one foot and a half in the knock-out phase tonight, catching their second win in two games. The match in Saint Petersburg was supposed to be Mohammed Salah’s comeback night, but the Pharaohs’ star couldn’t do much by himself, only collecting his first World Cup goal with a penalty kick conversion to set the score to 1-3.
Salah fought hard, and showed glimpses of his talent, but the supporting cast was not keeping the pace enough to allow him to make a difference. Egypt showed some evident limits in their defensive pack, which crumbled apart in the space of 15 minutes to concede Russia three goals, after having held them onto a goalless draw in the first half. The Pharaoh’s competition is virtually over already, much to the disappointment of their passionate fans, who defended themselves very well on the stands when it came to shouting and supporting – despite being in a clear minority.
On the other hand, the host country confirmed the solidity shown in the opening match with Saudi Arabia, and found some added value in Villarreal’s left winger Daniel Cheryshev – who scored his third goal in the tournament – as well as in Artem Dzyuba, the latter being promoted by coach Stanislav Cherchesov in the starting lineup, climaxing with one goal a majestic performance right in his home stadium.
Still, it was not all that easy for Russia, which struggled to breach into the Egyptian wall for at least 45 minutes, during which the North Africans were indeed the ones to come slightly closer to break the balance. Defender Yuri Zhirkov – another one playing at his home stadium tonight – closed on Salah in the 33rd minute, preventing Liverpool’s outlier from shooting from a close range. A few minutes later, Salah again caught a pass in the middle of the box, and quickly turned around to produce a shot that ended inches far from Igor Akinfeev’s post.
That was all the first time had to offer, so much to the point that Paraguayan referee Enrique Caceres sent players to the changing rooms with no additional minutes. But music changed pretty early after the break, with the hosts taking only a couple of minutes to steer the match into the direction a whole, massive country wished.
Roman Zobnin produced a shot in the 47th minute, which Egyptian defender Ahmed Fathy deflected into his own goal in an attempt to anticipate Dzyuba. Then it was Cheryshev’s turn to make his name make it to the scorecard, putting the ball past Mohamed El Shenawy at the end of a beautiful collective action, whose climax was a perfect low pass by Brazilian-Russian Mario Fernandes almost from the end line.
The third goal came in 62nd minute, with the Egyptian defensive line in a confused state, up to the point of allowing Artem Dzyuma to catch a long pass by center back Ilya Kutepov coming from Russia’s defensive third (!), and taking all the time he needed to adjust the ball, before firing it into El Shenawy’s goal again.
Salah timidly tried to reopen the game, earning a penalty kick nine minutes later, and converting it to end a scoring drought for Egypt that lasted since World Cup 1990. It took a couple of minutes for referee Caceres to award the penalty, as he initially deemed the foul on Salah to have happened outside of the box. VAR corrected his decision for the best.
The Egyptians protested over another alleged penalty foul happening in the 78th minute, with Kutepov suspiciously pushing down Marwan Mohsen in the box. Caceres closed his eyes, some other referees may have taken a different decision, and maybe now we would be talking about a different match. But destiny decided that this had to be Russia’s night, and the score didn’t change anymore.
If tomorrow Uruguay don’t lose to Saudi Arabia, Egypt will bid an early farewell to the World Cup, whereas the Russians will have made it to the knock-out round after two games: Mission fully accomplished for the host country.
June 19, 2018 – World Cup Group Stage Pool A
SCORERS: 47′ Fathy (E, o.g.), 59′ Cheryshev (R), 62′ Dzyuba (R), 73′ Salah (E, pen.)
|RUSSIA (4-2-3-1): Akinfeev; Mario Fernandes, Kutepov, Ignashevich, Zhirkov (86′ Kudriazov); Zobnin, Gazinsky; Smedov, Golovin, Cheryshev (74′ Kuziaev); Dzyuba (79′ Smolov) (Lunev, Gabulov, Semenov, Granat, Miranchuk, Anton, Miranchuk, Erokhin, Smolnikov) Coach: Cherchesov|
|EGYPT (4-2-3-1): El Shenawy; Fathy, Gabr, Hegazy, Abdelshafy; Hamed, Elneny (64′ Warda); Salah, Said, Trezeguet (68′ Sobhy); Mohsen (82′ Kahraba) (El Hadary, Ekramy, El Mohamady, Gaber, Morsy, Ashraf, Hamdy, Ekramy, Shikabala, Saad) Coach: Cuper|
REFEREE: Caceres (Paraguay)
NOTES: Attendance: 64468; Yellow Cards: Smolov (R), Trezeguet (E)