By Michael Emons-BBC Sport
Russia moved to the brink of qualifying for the last 16 of the World Cup after the host nation beat Mohamed Salah’s Egypt in St Petersburg.
Russia, who beat Saudi Arabia 5-0 in their opening game, took the lead thanks to a bizarre 47th-minute own goal from Ahmed Fathi, who diverted Roman Zobnin’s shot into his own net.
Denis Cheryshev doubled Russia’s advantage after he finished from Mario Fernandes’ pull-back, before Artem Dzyuba sealed the victory with a fine individual goal.
Liverpool forward Salah, playing for the first time since sustaining a shoulder injury in the Champions League final, converted a penalty after he had been fouled – but it was not enough to mount an Egypt fightback.
Russia will qualify for the last 16 and Egypt will be eliminated from the competition if Saudi Arabia fail to beat Uruguay in Rostov-on-Don on Wednesday.
Another call coming from Putin?
Russia are the lowest-ranked side in the World Cup at 70th in the rankings, and were not expected to do well in their home tournament, but the nature of their 5-0 victory over Saudi Arabia in their opening match surprised many.
That win even earned coach Stanislav Cherchesov a call during his post-match news conference from Vladimir Putin, with the Russian president telling Cherchesov to pass on his congratulations to the players.
There may well be another call from the Kremlin after this match as Russia produced a stunning second-half performance to sweep aside Egypt.
A lacklustre first half in St Petersburg contained only one shot on target from either side and that came via 38-year-old Russia defender Sergei Ignashevich’s weak fifth-minute effort straight at goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shenawy.
However, the hosts went ahead after only two minutes of the restart in bizarre fashion as Fathi, battling to get in front of Dzyuba, tried to make a clearance, lost his balance and saw Zobnin’s shot bounce off his knee and into the net.
Cheryshev scored his third goal of the tournament to become the joint top scorer – with Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo – after fine work from team-mate Fernandes.
Dzyuba, who also netted in the win over Saudi Arabia, made it 3-0 as he showed a nice piece of skill to take a lofted ball into the box down on his chest, take a touch to get past Ali Gabr and finish past El-Shenawy.
Of the 21 nations to previously host a World Cup, only South Africa in 2010 have failed to make it out of the opening phase and only a freak set of results can deny Russia a deserved place in the last 16.
Salah goal on return to action not enough for Egypt
Salah blasts home VAR penalty
Egypt’s hopes of qualifying now seem hugely unrealistic as they need to get a big win over Saudi Arabia and also hope Uruguay lose to both Saudi Arabia and Russia to stay in the competition.
The ongoing fitness concerns about Salah have dominated their tournament – he needed surgery on a shoulder injury after getting injured during Liverpool’s Champions League final loss to Real Madrid on 26 May.
He missed Egypt’s last-minute, 1-0 defeat by Uruguay in their opening match and played the full 90 minutes in St Petersburg despite being well short of fitness.
Salah, who scored 44 goals for Liverpool during the 2017-18 season, still had the best chances for his side and his shot on the turn from 18 yards narrowly went wide when the game was goalless.
With Egypt trailing 3-0, he did win a penalty after he was fouled by Zobnin – although it was only given after a consultation with the video assistant referee as referee Enrique Caceres had initially wrongly said the offence took place outside the area.
Nevertheless, Salah stepped up to become only the third Egyptian player to score at a World Cup, though their wait for a first victory goes on.
Goals, goals, goals for the hosts – the stats
Of Russia’s eight World Cup goals, Denis Cheryshev has three, Artem Dzyuba (pictured) has two, Iury Gazinskiy and Aleksandr Golovin have one each,with the other goal being an own goal
- This is the first time Russia have won their opening two matches at a World Cup since 1966 (as the Soviet Union), when they reached the semi-finals.
- Russia’s haul of eight goals in their opening two World Cup games is the joint-highest for a host nation, level with Italy in 1934.
- Russia have scored more goals in this World Cup (eight) than they did in their two previous tournaments combined (six across both 2002 and 2014).
- The eight goals in Russia’s two matches so far is equal to the total Spain scored in their seven matches to win the tournament in 2010.
- Thirteen of Russia/USSR’s 19 wins at the World Cup have been by a margin of at least two goals, including the past seven.
- There have already been 10 penalties awarded in 17 games at this World Cup, the same number as in the entire group stages of the 2014 tournament (10 in 48 games) and just three fewer than in the whole 2014 tournament (13 in 64 games).
- There have now been five own goals at the 2018 World Cup – the only tournament to have more was in 1998 (six).
- Each of the past eight goals Egypt have conceded in World Cup matches have come in the second half.
- Mohamed Salah became the third player to score for Egypt at the World Cup, after Abdelrahman Fawzi (two in 1934) and Magdy Abed El Ghani (one in 1990).
Man of the match – Denis Cheryshev (Russia)
Denis Cheryshev scored once from his four attempts, had a pass completion rate of 76.9% and also made two tackles and two interceptions
Cuper future as Egypt coach unsure – what they said
Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov said: “It is not an accident that we have two wins under our belt. We have a group of solidarity. We need to rest well and see who is ready to do what and prepare ourselves well for the next game.
“We have learned from our mistakes that did not allow us to be more successful in the past and we are very happy that we have two wins and very happy that we are giving this joy to our supporters.
“My squad pleased me very well in terms of discipline and this was a high-energy performance, but there were also some technical problems. Uruguay is quite a different level, they have their own style and their way to play.”
Egypt coach Hector Cuper said: “Whether I will continue with the team or not we have to see. We will try to finish this World Cup in the best possible manner.
“I don’t think it was lack of concentration, sometimes mistakes or a miscalculation can be made. We had some very good goalscoring opportunities in the first half, but errors are always made in football.”
On Mohamed Salah, Cuper added: “I was told he was feeling good. Of course, he could not prepare with us in the training camp and had to train alone so that might mean his total physical condition may have been reduced. I think he was OK [to play].
“If he had not injured himself in the Champions League final then he would have had an extra three weeks to train with us.
“We all know what he means for the squad. He is a vital player – the focal point – and has given the team a great satisfaction. He suffered an injury and we have all been worried about it. We would have all preferred his injury to not occur.
“I would have liked him to be present in the training camps but the priority for him was to recover from his shoulder injury and have him available as soon as possible. We didn’t have him available against Uruguay but did today and that was not enough.”