Host nation Russia planted one foot in the last 16 of the World Cup after a resounding 3-1 win over Egypt on Tuesday despite the return from injury of Mohamed Salah.
After a tight first half in a rain-drenched Saint Petersburg, Egypt captain Ahmed Fathi scored an own goal before strikes from Denis Cheryshev and Artem Dzyuba sealed a win that erased pre-tournament fears in Russia that the host nation would struggle to even get out of their group.Salah did score Egypt’s first goal at a World Cup since 1990 with a penalty after he had been hauled down 17 minutes from time, but it was too late to regain the momentum for the disappointing Pharaohs.
Russia will be guaranteed a place in the last 16, and Egypt eliminated, if Saudi Arabia fail to beat Uruguay on Wednesday.
Asked if this was the happiest day of his life, Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov said: “I hope there are more to come.”
“We took a step into the next round and now we have to see how we have to prepare for what happens next. We have to do our homework,” he added.
Salah was making his first appearance since injuring his left shoulder when falling heavily after being dragged to the ground by Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos in the Champions League final just over three weeks ago.
Russia thrashed a poor Saudi Arabia team 5-0 in the tournament opener last week, but Egypt had been expected to pose a stiffer challenge.But after Fathi put into his own net, an inspired Cheryshev slotted in his third goal of the tournament, putting him equal with Cristiano Ronaldo in the top scorers’ chart.
Dzyuba’s third goal sent the 65,000-capacity crowd into raptures.
Japan made history in the early game, beating 10-man Colombia 2-1 to become the first Asian side to conquer a South American team at a World Cup.
In the other Group H clash on Tuesday, Senegal recorded the first African win at this World Cup when they beat Poland 2-1, thanks to a deflected Thiago Cionek own goal and a terrible error by Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, which resulted in a goal for man-of-the-match Mbaye Niang.