19:00 BST, Tuesday 19th June, Saint Petersburg Stadium (St. Petersburg, Russia), BBC One
As Aleksandr Golovin netted a free kick to put Russia 5-0 up against Saudi Arabia, there was a sense of relief throughout the host nation. Going into the tournament Russia were in putrid form, not winning in 2018 and lacking the cohesion needed to succeed at the biggest international competition.
Now, Russia know that one victory in their final two games will be enough to seal their place in the knockout stages.
Egypt, on the other hand, fell to a harsh 1-0 defeat against Uruguay as José María Giménez netted with just moments to spare. Mo Salah was surprisingly not involved, even though he was named on the bench for Egypt, their fans will hope that he is fit enough to play at least some part against Russia.
Last Time Out
Russia 5-0 Saudi Arabia
What a way to start a tournament. Russia were ruthless and scintillating against a Saudi Arabia side that never looked prepared for such a big game.
Denis Cheryshev was phenomenal after coming on in the first-half, following up Yuri Gazinsky’s headed opener with a goal of his own, with his directness and finishing proving to be a particular thorn in Saudi Arabia’s side all afternoon.
Read five things we learned from Russia’s opening victory HERE.
Artem Dzyuba and Cheryshev netted the third and fourth, before Aleksandr Golovin, equally impressive, with his his ability to create was vital to Russia’s win, smashing home a free kick.
This was truly a statement from the host nation.
Egypt 0-1 Uruguay
Egypt were very unlucky to leave their opening game without a point as they battled Uruguay valiantly. Despite keeping an sub-par Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani quiet, Egypt were undone by a set piece that was shockingly defended.
When Gimenez leapt ahead of the towering figure of Ahmed Hegazi to put a bullet header in the top corner, Egypt knew that they were going to leave game one without anything to show for their efforts.
Read five things we learned from Egypt’s heartbreaking defeat HERE.
The return of Mo Salah though should give them the attacking spark to create at the other end.
Russia will surely make sure that Denis Cheryshev will be involved from the start against Egypt after he changed the game when he was brought on early on last time out.
Smolov did okay up front, but Dzyuba managed to score when he came on so he may get the nod to lead the line. Alan Dzagoev was forced off with a hamstring injury and his tournament could well be over.
Defensively, expect Russia to line up with the same back four and keeper.
Will Mo Salah play? That is the big question for Egypt. They were decent against Uruguay but lacked that cutting edge up front.
It would, therefore, not be a surprise if Egypt lined up with Salah, but kept the rest of the side the same as the one which lost 1-0 to Uruguay.
Key Battle: Aleksandr Golovin (Russia) vs Mohamed Elneny (Egypt)
Can defensive midfielder Mohamed Elneny cope with the creativity of Aleksandr Golovin? If Egypt are to stop Russia, then they need their midfielders to stop the supply line from Golovin.
Read more on Aleksandr Golovin’s move to Juventus HERE.
On the flip-side of that, Russia ought to make sure that Golovin is given the ball as often as possible when they are attacking so that they can create as many chances as possible.
This truly looks like it could be a midfield battle simply because Russia rely so much on their creative players.
Aleksandr Golovin vs Saudi Arabia:
- 65 touches
- 5 key passes
- 2 assists
- 1 goal
Elneny, on the other hand, struggled defensively, as he made just one tackle, one interception, and one clearance. He will need a vastly improved performance if he is to deal with Golovin.
A true test for Russia?
Whilst their 5-0 win was impressive, there is a sense that Russia defeated a side not really capable of competing at this level of football.
Egypt, though, will be a far greater proposition and will really show if Russia are the real deal. A victory would signal their intent to go on a deep run at the competition, while a defeat would deflate the nation and potentially leave them staring at a group stage exit.
Will Salah play?
It seems that Egypt are relying solely on the return of Salah as they lacked the attacking intent needed against Uruguay.
If he can pass a fitness test and play against Russia he will lift the morale of his peers and the fans and could help steer Egypt to a vital victory.
We wanted to avoid risks in this match [with Salah], but I think he will be fine for the next game. – Egypt manager Hector Cuper.
Certainly, his return will make for a very interesting game and the Russians will have to dedicate their defensive efforts towards stopping the Liverpool star.
Prediction: Russia 1-1 Egypt
If Salah is fit maybe Egypt could steal a victory. But, even if he is playing his match sharpness will not be at the levels seen this past season.
A draw would be a good result for Russia and would more or less seal their place in the next round – unless Egypt can beat Saudi Arabia by five goals.
The confidence Russia will have from game one should be enough to see them get at least a draw, even if Salah starts, but the Pharaohs are a much better prospect than Saudi Arabia and won’t roll over as easily, demonstrated by a strong showing against Uruguay.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Russia’s opening day victory in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.
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