The World Cup host Russia continued its blistering form, defeating Egypt, 3-1, in Saint Petersburg Tuesday night and all but qualifying for the knockout rounds for the first time since 1986, when it competed as the Soviet Union.
In a largely even and back-and-forth match, Russia’s three second half goals in 16 minutes stunned the Egyptians.
Mohamed Salah, who made his World Cup debut after missing Egypt’s opening match against Uruguay with a shoulder injury, scored a consolation penalty, but the Egyptian attack was never able to get in gear. Barring an improbable sequence of events, Egypt’s World Cup will be over after its match against Saudi Arabia on Monday.
The opening 45 minutes were lively, with both teams eager to get forward and attack, but there were few clear shots on goal. Russia tried to feed crosses into the 6-foot-5-inch striker Artem Dzyuba, while Egypt alternated between playing
The second half, however, began disastrously for Egypt. Just after the half began, Roman Zobnin sent a bouncing ball towards the back post, where the Egyptian defender Ahmed Fathi was wrestling with Dzyuba. Fathi attempted to clear the ball as he fell over, but it bounced off his leg and past Mohamed El-Shenawy into the net for a 47th-minute goal.
Russia’s second came just 10 minutes later. Right back Mário Fernandes drove to the end line before cutting the ball back near the penalty spot, where an open Denis Cheryshev slotted the ball home for his third goal of the tournament.
Things would get worse before they got better for Egypt, as Dzyuba finally got his deserved goal minutes later. Russia lobbed a hopeful free kick from the halfway line toward goal. The agile big man controlled the ball with his chest, slipped past an Egyptian defender, and fired home to put Russia ahead by 3-0.
Egypt poured numbers forward for the final thirty minutes of the game, knowing they needed at least three, and probably four, goals to keep their World Cup hopes alive. It was not to be.
Salah did pull one back after he was brought down in the box and awarded a penalty kick, which he thumped past Igor Akinfeev in the 73rd minute for Egypt’s first goal of the tournament. But Salah looked rusty, and struggled with his first touch all night. Unable to drag Egypt to victory, as he did with Liverpool so many times last season, and without any other attackers capable of doing so, Salah was helpless as Russia saw out the game easily.
To miss the knockout round now, Russia would have to lose to Uruguay, see Saudi Arabia defeat both Uruguay and Egypt, and surrender its enormous goal differential. Similarly, to qualify for the next round Egypt would have to beat Saudi Arabia, see Saudi Arabia and Russia defeat Uruguay, and win out on goal differential.