ST PETERSBURG – World Cup hosts Russia eased past Egypt 3-1 on Tuesday to virtually seal their place in the last 16, while despite the return of star player Mohamed Salah the Africans face near-certain elimination.
Egypt captain Ahmed Fathi’s 47th minute own goal and further strikes from Denis Cheryshev and Artem Dzyuba saw Russia steamroller their Group A opponents in a 16-minute second half spell in St Petersburg.
Liverpool winger Salah, playing for the first time since the Champions League final defeat by Real Madrid, won and converted a penalty awarded with the help of VAR, after the referee initially adjudged Roman Zobnin’s foul to be outside the area.
Russia have six points from two games and Egypt none, with only a Saudi Arabia win over Uruguay on Wednesday enough to stop the hosts qualifying and Egypt being eliminated before the final round of group matches.
“We scored, they became nervous and we scored a couple more,” said Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov.
“We have our goals, we did our homework, we have learned from our mistakes.
“We are very happy to have two wins under our belt and very happy to give this joy to our supporters.”
Cheryshev, who bagged two goals in Russia’s 5-0 win over Saudi Arabia on the opening day of the tournament after replacing Dzagoev, impressed down the left and his third strike pulled him level with Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo as the tournament’s top scorer.
Although Salah’s presence gave Egypt far greater threat in attack on paper, Russia did an impressive job of keeping the ball away from him and were on top in the first half.
Shortly before half-time Salah turned into space on the edge of the box and curled an effort inches wide, as Egypt started to build some momentum.
Unfortunately for Hector Cuper’s side, captain Fathi sliced the ball into his own net less than two minutes into the second half when under pressure from Dzyuba.
Salah found it hard to get involved in the game which was hotly contested until Fathi’s error, the fifth own goal of the World Cup so far.
Quick-fire goals from Cheryshev and Zenit St Petersburg striker Dzyuba, on home territory, helped Russia to a comprehensive victory.
Man of the match Cheryshev slotted home from close range on 59 minutes after being teed up well by Mario Fernandes and three minutes later Dzyuba drilled in a neat third as Egypt fell apart.
Salah slammed home from the penalty spot in the 73rd but although the Egyptian star had finally made it to the party, it was too little, too late for the Africans, whose return to the tournament after a near three-decade absence appears doomed to end at the first hurdle.
“I think we had a very good first half. The whole match is 94 minutes and we had 10 to 15 very bad minutes and that was the reason why we lost,” Cuper told reporters.
“We must recognize the great effort the team has made after 28 years of not being in the World Cup.” -DPA