Russia 3-1 Egypt: 5 things we learned as the hosts ran riot once more

Billed as the biggest game in Group A, Russia blew away Egypt and will now almost certainly feature in the knockout stages for the first time.

REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

Russia, the lowest-ranked team in this year’s World Cup, will now almost certainly make it the Round of 16. 

Only two victories by the Saudi Arabian side they so roundly thumped last week, along with a defeat of their own against Uruguay, would see the hosts bomb out at the first hurdle.

That looks highly unlikely and, in what was a hugely important tussle, they swept aside Egypt in Saint Petersburg. The Africans’ lack of a World Cup finals victory will now stretch beyond half a century if they fail to beat the Saudis next Monday. Either way, their chances of progressing are almost nil.

Tuesday’s crucial victory was not quite as easy as the scoreline made it look, with the first half, in particular, proving a tight, messy affair. But Stanislav Cherchesov’s men did what was necessary and now find themselves looking ahead to a knockout tie, likely against the might of either Portugal or Spain.

Here are five things we learned from events at the Krestovsky Stadium.

  1. 1 Russia have momentum on their side

    REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

    For all the laments about how poor this year's hosts were, Russia have done much show that their presence at this year's World Cup is merited.

    It would be wrong to suggest that they are likely to disturb proceedings during the latter stages of the tournament, but their record thus far speaks for itself. Two wins, eight goals scored and no little amount of attacking intent.

    Egypt, save for a purple patch in the middle of the first half, were poor. Saudi Arabia were dreadful. 

    There remains a feeling that this Russia side will come thoroughly unstuck against the first real test they face. Yet they cannot dictate who they play against. All they can do is beat what is put in front of them.

  2. 2 Salah needs to rest

    REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

    Wherever Mohamed Salah goes, he scores goals. That rang true once more in Saint Petersburg with the Egypt and Liverpool talisman stepping a converting a VAR-awarded penalty.

    Sadly for Salah that represented little more than a consolation. The man who has blown the Premier League away this season could do little but watch on helplessly as his teammates blundered their way into a three-goal deficit; even his Midas touch could not save them this time.

    In truth Salah looked just as you would expect a man to if they have battled against time to be fit for a crucial game: tired, out of sorts and largely on the periphery. 

    The danger he poses was always evident but his game never quite caught alight, and by the time he won that 73rd-minute penalty the damage had long since been done.

    What Salah needs now is rest and a recharge of the batteries. His has been a relentless, exhilarating season. Sadly, it has ended on a sour note, first with his injury in the Champions League final and now here, on an occasion where his World Cup ended just as quickly as it had begun.

  3. 3 Denis Cheryshev is in the form of his life

    REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

    Cheryshev did not expect to play much of a part in this World Cup. With only 11 caps to his name in six years, the Villareal winger was just happy to be present.

    When Alan Dzagoev pulled up with a hamstring injury just over 20 minutes into the tournament opener, a nation winced. Cheryshev, by contrast, saw his opportunity and grasped it with both hands. Two goals arrived against Saudi Arabia and here, this time in the team from the start, he bagged another.

    Russia's newest star has now scored three goals in two games, a tally made all the more bewildering when we consider that he has notched just eight goals in his past three seasons of domestic football. This latest strike rounded off a lovely move, complimenting superb buildup play by Alexander Samedov.

    The loss of Dzagoev left a vacuum to be filled. Cheryshev has stepped into it ably.

  4. 4 Egypt have only themselves to blame

    REUTERS/Henry Romero

    Where Hector Cuper's men were almost imperious in defence against Uruguay on Friday, despatched only by the latest of late headers, here they were anything but.

    A cagey second half had actually seen the visitors trouble their hosts, with Trezeguet in particular glimpsing goal on a number of occasions. At halftime, there was little sign of what was to come.

    But within two minutes of the restart, they found themselves behind. Mohamed El-Shenawy punched a ball clear that he might more easily have gathered, and from Roman Zobnin's (who was excellent for Russia) resultant shot Ahmed Fathi bizarrely turned the ball into his own net. It was farcical and set the tone for a 15-minute spell in which Cuper's side completely collapsed.

    Cheryshev took his goal well before Artem Dzyuba capped things off with a sumptuous effort. The Zenit striker, who plies his domestic trade in this stadium, took the ball down with his chest before knocking it past Ali Gabr and then finishing emphatically. 

    Yet the fact he was given the room to do was emblematic of Egypt in the second half. Russia were good in the second half but the Pharoahs did themselves no favours.

  5. 5 Group A is now a battle to see who faces Portugal

    REUTERS/Albert Gea

    Barring a Saudi miracle tomorrow, this result effectively confirmed who will progress from Group A. 

    Uruguay's path to the knockout rounds has never looked particularly arduous, and this game was always going to determine who would be joining them there.

    Now that Russia have just about ensured it will be them, they will turn their focus to the likes of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. Portugal or Spain likely await in the next round and, while neither is a particularly enjoyable proposition, the hosts will surely hope to face the former rather than the latter.

    How they shape up against Uruguay could depend on how Group B's fixtures play out on Wednesday. 

    If Portugal can steal a march on the former world champions with a comfortable victory over Morocco, Cherchesov's men might reason that finish second in the group isn't the end of the world. They will be more suited to combating the counter-attacking Portuguese than the metronomic passing of the Spanish.

    Alternatively, given the confidence they have, they might well decide they fancy their chances against anyone. Certainly, in a tournament littered with missed chances, they are one of the few sides who can claim to have found the goal more times than not. 

    That should give them a puncher's chance whoever they face.

    What do you think of Russia? Do they have enough to challenge the favourites? Let us know by commenting below.

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Chris Weatherspoon

Chris Weatherspoon is a football, cricket and boxing writer. Based in the northeast of England, he has written extensively on the travails of Sunderland AFC, contributing a regular column to the A Love Supreme fanzine and frequently appearing on the Wise Men Say podcast. In November 2017 he published 'Short-Changed', a look at the last twenty years of the club's history.

More widely, he has covered football for When Saturday Comes and In Bed With Maradona. He also writes a monthly boxing column for Big Write Hook.

You can find him on Twitter: @christoph_21.