Russia were one of the stand out teams of the first round of fixtures, storming to a 5-0 victory over lowly Saudi Arabia. While the Russians weren’t particularly tested in their first fixture, you can only play the opposition that’s in front of you, and Russia did that arguably better than anyone so far.
Egypt meanwhile stood resolute against a subpar Uruguay side in a less spectacular affair. The Pharaohs looked certain to pick up a worthy point and put the pressure back on the hosts, but they fell to the group favourites via a late winner.
The Russian entered the tournament under heaped criticism from the national press, being labelled the worst national team in the history of the country. Players had been accused of not caring and not trying due to the Russian Premier League’s national quota system but they didn’t exhibit that in their first group match.
Russia looked comfortable at the back and possessed great purpose going forward, scoring five goals against their beleaguered opponents. They even showed great squad depth with two substitutes finding themselves on the scoresheet in an absolute rout. Russian confidence is high, and they can secure passage to the next round with a victory over Egypt.
The Egyptians meanwhile gave a good case of themselves with their defensive organisation but rarely threatened an underperforming Uruguay side.
They won’t have many better chances to take all three points from a game this tournament, and a late goal compounded a poor afternoon for the African side, who now are in dire need of a positive result against the buoyant hosts.
World Cup Highlights
Russia’s strongest ever finish at a World Cup tournament came back in 1966 when they played under the banner of the Soviet Union. They reached the semi finals of that tournament, where they were beaten by West Germany.
They were also beaten in the third-place playoff against Portugal but it was the only time the Russians have reached a World Cup semi final. The 5-0 thumping of Saudi Arabia wasn’t the first time the Russian’s have enjoyed a resounding group stage victory.
The last time they won by a five-goal margin was in 1994, beating Cameroon 6-1, but they still failed to get out of the group, after losing their other two fixtures.
Egypt have never made it out of a World Cup group stage and have, in fact, never won a competitive World Cup fixture. A meagre highlight would be a 1-1 draw against the Netherlands at the 1990 tournament, which is their best result at a World Cup to date.
They have had more success in the African Cup of Nations, where they are the tournaments most successful side, having lifted the trophy seven times, but they are yet to make an impact on the world stage.
Alan Dzagoev was forced off in Russia’s first game and scans suggest the player has a hamstring injury that will likely end his World Cup. It was a blow to the Russians, losing one of their most recognisable players, but the man who replaced him was Denis Cheryshev scored two goals against Saudi Arabia.
Mo Salah proved his fitness to join up and train with the Egyptian team but wasn’t risked against Uruguay. Given how close the game was the Egyptians may regret that decision as their talisman could have made the difference against Uruguay. Tarek Hamed was also removed with an injury in the first fixture but should be fit to return.
Russia (4-2-3-1): Akinfeev, Fernandes, Kutepov, Ignashevich, Zhirkov, Yerokhin, Gazinskiy, Miranchuk, Golovin, Cheryshev, Dyzuba
Egypt (4-3-3): El-Shenawy, Fathy, Gabr, Hegazy, Abdel-Shafy, Elneny, Said, Hamed, Warda, Salah, Trezeguet
If Egypt had held onto a point this would be a perfectly poised fixture, but that late goal put all the onus on the Egyptians in this fixture and Mo Salah surely can’t be at full fitness after not playing in the first game.
The Russians defended well when required against Saudi Arabia; with two holding midfielders and the experienced Sergei Ignashevich on the field, they should be able to isolate the talented forward and make it hard for Egypt.
The Egyptians are also very vulnerable from set pieces, something that proved their undoing against Uruguay. Russia meanwhile netted two of their five goals in that manner, proving it to be a profitable source of attack for them.
Ultimately it will be about patience and timing, Salah can make a difference in a game like this but if Russia set up well and take their chances, they should have a pretty easy of day of it.
Prediction: Russia 2-0 Egypt