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World Cup Group A: Will Russia be live for five again or is Egypt finally on Salah time?

Tuesday 19th June 2018

Russia answered their critics in the best way possible: on the pitch. They beat Saudi Arabia 5-0 in the tournament's christening match. Failure to win in 2018 had put the Russians under immense pressure to perform. Stanislav Cherchesov's men did not disappoint, rising to an occasion to which the Saudis simply failed to turn up. 

The Saudis who had a smooth qualification process, scoring goals aplenty under Bert van Marwijk, were no match for their opponent with Juan Antonio Pizzi in charge. 

The host nation had a point to prove as the world watched. Any win would have been sufficient, but the Russians were in a deadly mood. Not even losing Alan Dzagoev to a hamstring injury spoiled their appetite.

But let's face it, commendable though it was, the victory came against Saudi Arabia. The Green Falcons do not have a World Cup pedigree. Nor do they have a world-class superstar who can answer such a challenge. Mo Salah belongs to Egypt.

The Egyptians face Russia this evening knowing anything other than a win will put their chances to advance in serious jeopardy. The Pharaohs lost 1-0 to Uruguay in their first match and must do better this time around. The Liverpool man is ready to play. He could make all the difference.

Russia

FIFA Ranking: 70th

Home support is good thing. Ask Uruguay, Argentina, France and Italy. All have hosted and won the World Cup. Russia will count on fan support as they file out against Egypt. It could prove necessary. But the Sbornaya have already exhibited the ruthlessness necessary to win when it matters most.

Running riot against the Saudis was the perfect way to set the tone for the tournament. Russia must be at their best against Egypt to earn the three points at stake as the Africans are a different kettle of fish.

That said, Dzagoev's absence is critical. But the Russians have already shown they can rise above it. Denis Cherichev came in and grabbed a brace. 

Young Aleksandr Golovin also used the opportunity to announce himself to the world. With a goal and an assist to show for his efforts, he will be looking to build on that performance.

Egypt

FIFA Ranking: 45th

Egypt lost 1-0 to Uruguay in their opening match. This puts the North Africans in a position where they cannot afford to lose. 

The problem is that Salah has been injured since the Champions League final in May. This will be his first match since. Fitness concerns and match rustiness may prevent him from giving his best. That can only hurt Egypt. But the importance of the task at hand could bring out the best from the whole team.

Hector Cuper's men have proven they can win when the stakes are high. They left Ghana in their wake to qualify for Russia 2018 after decades of absence from the tournament. They also beat Portugal in a warm-up march heading into the competition. For them, it is now or never. Salah's availability is a boost most welcome.

 

Prediction

This game promises to be a cracker. Either side knows a loss here could be fatal. Egypt will have no points with one match remaining, or Russia will have let them back into the frame. Uruguay has too much firepower to hang their hopes on beating them to progress. Therefore, it will be a fight to finish. 

For the home side, a win here will seal qualification for the next round while Egypt simply needs a win to stay alive. It will likely be a game of fine margins. 

With Salah, the Egyptians will be dangerous up front and will likely score. At the back, they may not prevent Russia from answering. That will make for an entertaining encounter. Expect the crowd to be the difference. The best Egypt can get in this scenario will be a draw., but the most likely outcome will be a 2-1 victory for Russia.

Emmanuel Odey

Emmanuel is a freelance football journalist who lives and breathes the round leather game. He is a contributor on several platforms. You can follow him on Twitter for more.


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