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ST PETERSBURG: Hosts Russia virtually booked their place in the second round of the soccer World Cup on Tuesday with a 3-1 win over Egypt that moved them to top of Group A with six points from two games.

Three goals in the space of 15 minutes early in the second half put the Russians firmly in command before Egypt’s Mohamed Salah, who had a subdued game on his return from injury, struck from a penalty, awarded after a video review.

Russia took advantage of Egypt’s defensive mistakes to cruise into a three-goal lead out of nothing. Fathi’s attempted clearance for the first goal was sloppy, as was Ali Gabr’s attempt at closing down Dzyuba for the third goal.

Cheryshev continues to make those late runs in the area and is an unlikely leading scorer through two matches.

Should Uruguay (three points) beat Saudi Arabia (0 points) on Wednesday, it will ensure the South Americans and the Russians go through to the round of 16 with a game to spare.

After a tight first half Russia’s breakthrough came just two minutes after the restart.

Aleksandr Golovin’s cross was punched out by Egyptian keeper Mohamed El Shenawy, only as far as Roman Zobnin whose low drive was heading wide until Ahmed Fathi’s outstretched leg turned the ball into his own net.

Remarkably, it was the fifth own goal of the tournament so far. The record amount for a tournament is six in 1998.

If there was some good fortune to the opener, the Russians’ second was pure quality.

Alexander Samedov pushed the ball out wide to Mario Fernandes, the Brazilian-born right back who had powered forward from deep to deliver a perfect pull-back into the path of Denis Cheryshev who slotted home his third goal of the tournament.

Two minutes later it was 3-0 via a route one play, as target man Artem Dzyuba chested down a long ball, bustled past Ali Gabr and drove home.

Cheryshev, who entered the World Cup as a fringe player, is proving lethal in front of goal, with his latest a side-footed effort from close range from Mario Fernandes’ cross in the 59th. Dzyuba’s goal was more direct, the striker chesting down a long ball from defender Ilya Kutepov, beating his marker and curling home a low finish.

Salah, who had not played since going off injured in Liverpool’s Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid last month, managed some consolation when he converted from the spot after a video assistant referee ruling that he had been brought down by Zobnin inside the area.

The hopes of 100 million Egyptians were raised when he was selected in the starting lineup, the Liverpool forward making his comeback after 25 days out with damaged ligaments in his left shoulder after a tangle with Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos in the Champions League final.

Salah trotted out for his pre-match warmup to roars from Egypt fans, who at times appeared to outnumber their Russian counterparts. They shouted every time Salah’s face flashed up on the big screen and when his name was announced before kickoff.

Yet from the start, it was clear that Salah was staying out of anything too physical and there was no concerted effort from his Egypt teammates to pick him out each time. He didn’t touch the ball until the seventh minute.

He did win the penalty confirmed by the video assistant referee after Salah was pulled down by Roman Zobnin. He converted it in the 73rd minute, but it wasn’t enough. Egypt is still without a victory in six World Cup matches.

Group dynamics

Much now depends on the Uruguay-Saudi Arabia game on Wednesday in Rostov. A win or draw for Uruguay and the top two would meet to determine which team finishes in first place.

Egypt is hoping for an improbable win for Saudi Arabia.

Published in Dawn, June 20th, 2018

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