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World Cup Results: Goals ‘R’ us, Egypt on the brink...

Sport

#Russia2018

World Cup Results: Goals ‘R’ us, Egypt on the brink of exit as Russia run riot

Artem Dzyuba of Russia (R) and Roman Zobnin of Russia react after an own goal by Ahmed Fathi of Egypt the FIFA World Cup 2018 group A preliminary round soccer match between Russia and Egypt in St.Petersburg, Russia, 19 June 2018. EPA-EFE/ETIENNE LAURENT (RESTRICTIONS APPLY: Editorial Use Only, not used in association with any commercial entity - Images must not be used in any form of alert service or push service of any kind including via mobile alert services, downloads to mobile devices or MMS messaging - Images must appear as still images and must not emulate match action video footage - No alteration is made to, and no text or image is superimposed over, any published image which: (a) intentionally obscures or removes a sponsor identification image; or (b) adds or overlays the commercial identification of any third party which is not officially associated with the FIFA World Cup) EPA-EFE/ETIENNE LAURENT EDITORIAL USE ONLY EDITORIAL USE ONLY
By AFP
19 Jun 2018 0

World Cup hosts Russia have one foot in the last 16 after a resounding 3-1 win over Egypt on Tuesday, despite the presence of Mohamed Salah in the Egyptian lineup.

Stay up to date with all the latest news from Russia with Daily Maverick‘s dedicated World Cup 2018 section.  For the latest highlights, results and standings from all the groups, click here.

Three weeks and three days after Sergio Ramos twisted and slammed Egypt’s best World Cup hope into the grass, Mohamed Salah returned.

He won a penalty, and scored it, ripping the ball with his left foot into the top corner.

But by then, Russia were already three up and this game was as good as gone.

On show here was not the Salah that had tormented Roma and Manchester City, or scored 32 goals in the Premier League and 10 to power Liverpool to the Champions League final.

This was Salah making the best of things, hoping to deliver a single, match-winning moment even if he knew a complete performance was never on the cards.

The way he shuffled off at the end, as Russia’s substitutes rushed on to celebrate a 3-1 victory in Group A, suggested even he knew it was a long shot.

Certainly, he was not 100 per cent fit, that much had been clear on Monday when Salah jogged around the Saint Petersburg Stadium pitch, testing out his left shoulder with a series of tentative barges but opting out when his team-mates swung their arms in circles.

It was clear too in the first 30 minutes, when the 26-year-old barely touched the ball, and when he did, turned back, looked inside or, on more than one occasion, gave it away.

Egypt coach Hector Cuper had little option but to play him, of course, given a second consecutive match missed would likely mean Salah being fitter only for a dead rubber against Saudi Arabia.

Realistically, Egypt had to win here and in playing Salah, Cuper played his trump card.

There was a psychological boost to be gained too, as Egyptian fans, draped in flags and coated in face paint, bounced and cheered whenever Salah’s face appeared on the big screen.

“I say this with all respect to my other players,” Cuper had said on Monday. “When we don’t have him, we feel his absence.”

Russian supporters knew his importance. One even arrived wearing a Real Madrid shirt, with Ramos’ name printed on the back.

And so too did 34-year-old left-back Yuri Zhirkov. When cross-field balls floated towards Salah, Zhirkov headed them clear. When Salah collected the ball deeper in midfield, Zhirkov clattered his second touch. When Salah pulled free at the back post, Zhirkov made the clearance, scrambling the ball over his own bar.

“We have a mission and we will accomplish the mission,” Russia’s coach Stanislav Cherchesov had vowed on Monday.

Salah showed glimpses but his touch was never crisp, his thought process indecisive.

At the end of the first half, he finally had Zhirkov squared up on the edge of the area but his footwork was muddled and a shot on the turn whistled past the post.

Perhaps the single moment did, in the end, arrive in the 73rd minute. Egypt poured into the box and as Salah looked to run beyond, Zhirkov tugged him back.

After consulting his video assistant, referee Enrique Caceres upgraded the free-kick into a penalty and Salah made no mistake.

By then, Russia were already home and dry, an own-goal from Ahmed Fathi and strikes from Denis Cheryshev and Artem Dzyuba putting the hosts on the brink of the last 16.

Salah had his goal but it was nothing more than a footnote.  DM

Match highlights are available on Fifa’s YouTube channel.

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