Russia all but secured their place in the 2018 World Cup Round of 16 and made the best ever start from a host nation by defeating Mohamed Salah’s Egypt 3-1 in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday night.
The Russian supporters in Saint Petersburg Stadium were as loud as they could possibly be in anticipation of the crucial Group A clash, hopeful that their side could all but confirm their place in the knockout rounds.
It was a tale of two halves as both sides were evenly matched in the first half, however, Russia cranked up the pressure and style to completely takeover the second half and take a home a commanding victory over the African side.
The first half was an open affair as both sides came out attacking but it was all Russia early on as Egypt continuously conceded possession due to poor passing. Russia had plenty of shots early on, but there were no openings being made in the early minutes of the game.
Russia did well to shut down Salah in early minutes, denying him any touches and shutting him out of the game, and the pattern early on was poor passing from Egypt as they tried to find Salah who simply wasn’t available.
It opened up the door for the flood of pressure the Russian offence put on the Egyptian defence early on and it was only once when Salah began to contribute defensively that Egypt started to get their offence going.
Mohamed ‘Trezeguet’ Hassan did well on the left flank as he constantly demanded attention while skipping past defenders. Just like Russia earlier on, there were a lot of positive looks by the Pharaohs, but no clear-cut chances.
Once both sides got going, it became an open, box-to-box matchup with both sides charging down the field immediately after gaining possession. Neither side could be caught out though, as the defence on both ends of the pitch was quality.
It was only three minutes into the second half until Russia crept ahead in freak fashion.
Roman Zobnin had a go at goal from outside the box but miscued the shot before watching the ball veer wide. Unfortunately, Ahmed Fathy’s attempt to clear the shot up the field deflected the shot goalwards.
Goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shenawy couldn’t get to the ball, hardly seeing it as he was screened by one of his own defenders and just like that, it was 1-0 Russia.
It was a cruel goal to concede early in the second half and Russia continued to keep the pressure on, earning multiple corners and keeping possession deep in Egyptian territory as the hosts took control.
It wasn’t long until the host nation would breakthrough once more and double their lead through now-joint top scorer in the tournament, Denis Cheryshev.
Egypt struggled to clear the ball under pressure from the Russia forwards and Mario Fernandes came striding forward to gain possession in the corner.
He skipped past Mohamed Abdel-Shafy before squaring the ball for the surging Cheryshev, who did well with his chance to tap the ball in for his third goal of the summer, despite unbelievably starting the opener against Saudi Arabia on the bench.
The hosts continued to pile on the pressure and did add to their lead only three minutes later through Artem Dyzuba. The striker did well to settle a long ball down with his chest and turn towards goal to fire a low effort past El-Shenawy.
It was an uphill battle for Egypt from here, down three goals well into the second half. The Pharaohs still struggled to get their offense going, but the introduction of Ramadan Sobhi breathed fresh life into the Egyptian side.
Salah finally made his mark on the World Cup from the penalty spot late on. He played a one-two with Sobhi and was through into the box before getting dragged down.
It was originally called as a free-kick on the edge of the box, but VAR came into play in the tournament once more and confirmed that Salah was dragged down in the box. He stepped up and took his own penalty, converting high and right for his and Egypt’s first goal of the competition.
From then on, Russia was perfectly fine letting Egypt come forward as they reacted well to the goal and absorbed pressure well. There was plenty of positive play by Egypt going forward, but they lacked the final pass or final touch in their build up to get back into this game.
With this result, Egypt are more than likely eliminated from the tournament. Salah got his goal in his World Cup debut, but unless Saudi Arabia pulls off an incredible upset over Uruguay tomorrow, his World Cup is done.
Russia on the other hand are certainly through to the knockout stage and will look to cement a first-place finish in the group in their final game against Uruguay.