Russia vs Egypt: 5 things to look forward to as Salah arrives at the World Cup

Russia's thumping opening day victory put them in pole position in Group A but Tuesday evening's tie with Egypt is a far more rigorous inspection of the hosts' mettle.

REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

The opening round of games in Group A did not follow the expectations ascribed to them. 

Russia’s 5-0 hammering of Saudi Arabia was not in keeping with the hosts’ status as the lowest-ranked team in this year’s World Cup, whilst Egypt, devoid of the unfit Mohamed Salah, were fairly impotent against Uruguay.

In fairness to the African side, their ploy of frustrating the South Americans almost worked. Jose Gimenez’s bullet header in the last minute broke Egyptian hearts but, while Uruguay had more than enough chances to win it earlier, Hector Cuper will have seen enough to believe his side can earn their first ever World Cup finals win this summer.

Their next opportunity to right that 48-year wrong comes on Tuesday evening, when they face off against Russia in Saint Petersburg. 

Here are just a few of the reasons why the tie offers great intrigue.

  1. 1 Just how good are the hosts?

    REUTERS/Grigory Dukor

    To see Russia skewer Saudi Arabia on Thursday was to see a nation given its moment. 

    Much had been made prior to the tournament about the hosts' inadequacies, with many suggesting they might become the first hosting side in the tournament's history to lose their opening game.

    Such fears were put to bed emphatically. Stanislav Cherchesov's men were ruthless in the face of pitiable opposition, with two goals in added time emphasising their unwillingness to let up. 

    Even the loss of key man Alan Dzagoev did little to deter them; his replacement Denis Cheryshev nabbed a brace, with his second goal arriving as an early contender for goal of the tournament.

    Yet for all the positivity that result and performance has inspired, it remains that their opposition were dire. Saudi Arabia represent the second-lowest-ranked team of the 32 in Russia this summer and it showed, as time and time again they found themselves scythed open.

    Russia's victory was a welcome one, but it also came against by far their easiest opposition this summer. It still remains to be seen whether the hosts have the quality required to get through the group stages.

  2. 2 The arrival of Mo

    REUTERS/Darren Staples

    While eyebrows were raised upon the announcement that the English PFA Young Player of the Year, Leroy Sane, had been left out of Germany's final squad, onlookers were positively aghast at the prospect of the overall Player of the Year missing out on this summer's festivities.

    Mohamed Salah's potential absence from proceedings arose not from managerial choice but instead the misfortune of trying to come between Sergio Ramos and the European Cup. As soon as Salah's shoulder thudded into the Kiev turf, sharp intakes of breath could be heard from Merseyside to Cairo.

    Salah was ultimately forced out of that European Cup final, and Friday's lunchtime tussle was deemed too early for his return. In truth, Cuper likely reasoned that the Uruguay game represented his side's worst chance of victory; better to keep his star man for the easier battles to come.

    And so, following confirmation that he is fit for selection, the man who plundered 44 goals for Liverpool this term will be called upon to try and propel his country into the last 16. Russia will doubtless have prepared for the onslaught awaiting them. 

    Whether they can deal with it is another thing entirely.

  3. 3 Replacing Dzagoev

    REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

    All eyes might well be on Salah but, while Egypt welcome their best player into the mix, Russia will have to learn to cope without theirs. 

    The loss of central midfielder Alan Dzagoev wasn't too keenly felt against the Saudis, particularly when his replacement Cheryshev promptly smashed home two goals from the left wing.

    Yet Dzagoev represented much of the host nation's hopes this summer, and his absence will be evident. 

    Dzagoev offered an otherwise lethargic side plenty of pace and, though Denis Cheryshev, who had not expected to play anything other than a bit part role this summer, offers speed too, it remains that a glaring hole has opened up within this Russia side.

    Yury Gazinsky weighed in with his first international goal to open the scoring at the Luzhniki Stadium, but he and other central midfielder Roman Zobnin have just 20 caps between them. They will need to step up in their talisman's absence.

    Despite playing in different positions, the burden of expectation will likely now shift to Aleksandr Golovin and Fyodor Smolov. 

    The former, who performed well on the wing against Saudi Arabia, is said to be coveted by numerous big English sides and will be looking to impress once more. Smolov on the other hand was poor up front, failing to notch against a dreadful opposing backline. 

    He has scored over 50 goals in the last three Russian Premier League seasons, and he will likely need to add to his international tally if his side are to retain hopes of progressing beyond the group.

  4. 4 Home advantage

    REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

    The benefits of playing at home have already been evidenced for Russia, but they could take on even greater importance in what is essentially Group A's most important tie: neither of these two teams have been victorious on foreign soil since October 2016.

    Of the 20 previous World Cups, only once, South Africa in 2010, has a host nation failed to make it through the group stages. Russia's dominant win has already put them in the driving seat, and they surely enter this game as favourites, even with the Salah situation they now have to deal with.

    The Krestovsky Stadium is not a familiar haunt for Russia, having only played one game there since its opening last year. A 2-0 Confederations Cup victory against New Zealand is hardly on par with the occasion that awaits their next outing there, but it does at least show the benefits of home advantage. 

    With a whole country behind them, one buoyed by an emphatic opening win, the odds seem stacked in the hosts' favour.

  5. 5 Leaving the past behind

    REUTERS/Jason Cairnduff

    Something almost certainly has to give. Given that Saudi Arabia's chances of making the Round of 16 appear to have reduced from slim to nil following Thursday's defeat, one of these sides will go further in the World Cup than ever before.

    For Russia, this represents their fourth finals. In none of the prior three have they made it beyond the groups. 

    That is perhaps a tad selective: in their former guise as the most significant part of the Soviet Union, they reached the semi-finals once and the quarter-finals a further three times. Yet it remains that since their 1991 independence they have never progressed into the knockout stages.

    Likewise Egypt. This marks the Pharoahs' third venture to the world's grandest stage,and their first appearance in almost three decades. 

    Uruguay's late winner on Friday extended their winless run at the finals to five games, a record which, while well removed from the current squad, cannot do much to boost morale. 

    Given that Russia already have three points on the board, Tuesday evening feels very much like do or die for the men from North Africa.

    Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Group A in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.

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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.