Russia have one foot in the Round of 16 after they beat Egypt 3-1 in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday to consolidate their place atop Group A.
Both sides stood on an even pedestal in an evenly contested first half, in which clear-cut chances came few and far between. But, the game kicked into life not soon after the players returned for the final 45 minutes after half-time.
Russia grabbed the lead just two minutes into the second half as Roman Zobnin’s long-range effort was deflected into the goal by Egypt skipper Ahmed Fathy. The hosts would then double their advantage just before the hour mark when Denis Cheryshev scored from Mario Fernandes’s cut-back.
The win was then rounded off just moments later when Artem Dzyuba powered in the third Russian goal of the match. But, there was time for one more goal as Egypt got a consolation through a Mohamed Salah converted penalty. Who were the three players who impressed the most with their performances on the night? The Hard Tackle takes a closer.
How can one inopportune moment for one player change the life of his teammate forever? This could not have been epitomised better by the rise of Denis Cheryshev within a span of just six days, all thanks to an unfortunate, tournament-ending hamstring injury suffered by Alan Dzagoev.
The CSKA Moscow man had been the best player on the pitch against Saudi Arabia last week before he had to hobble off, with Cheryshev getting a chance to impress. Until that moment, the former Real Madrid midfielder hadn’t even opened his account for the Russian National Side. Oh, how the tables have turned now.
Following his man of the match exploits in the World Cup opener, Cheryshev continued his rich vein of form on Tuesday, and was at the heart of everything that the Russian attack produced. His goal was well and truly a turning point in the match as the Sbornaya grabbed the foothold in the match and went on to virtually guarantee their place in the next round.
As for Cheryshev, he’s now the joint-top scorer at this year’s World Cup, alongside former Real Madrid teammate Cristiano Ronaldo. He can do no wrong at the moment, can he?
From the poster boy of Russia’s World Cup campaign to a player who has been going about his job with the National Side quietly for several years now. It was no different on Tuesday either, as Aleksandr Samedov produced another fantastic performance, playing a key role in Russia’s win.
A true workhorse in Stanislav Cherchesov’s side, Samedov carried a constant threat in the final third with his link-up play with Aleksandr Golovin and Artem Dzyuba. On the other end of the pitch, the veteran midfielder doubled up defensively to support Mario Fernandes and neutralise the threat of the dangerous Trezeguet.
While his defensive acumen was impressive enough, Samedov also kept the Egyptian defence on its toes with his probing set-piece delivery, with Russia always threatening from corners and free-kicks. A silent workhorse for Cherchesov, who is equally valuable as those who are regularly getting the goals.
Fyodor Smolov would have felt hard done by when the starting lineup was announced as he had done very little wrong in the World Cup opener against Saudi Arabia. But, with Artem Dzyuba scoring one of the goals in that game, Cherchesov decided to go ahead with the towering striker – a decision that was vindicated on the night.
Dzyuba’s physical threat kept Ahmed Hegazi and Ali Gabr on their toes throughout his stint on the pitch and it was clear from the early stages that he had Egypt’s central defensive partnership rattled. Furthermore, his link-up and understanding with the likes of Samedov, Cheryshev and Golovin was a sight to behold, ultimately creating loads of space around the Egyptian box.
He capped off a fine performance with the goal that sealed the deal for Russia, perhaps an even better goal than the one he scored last week, as he controlled the ball magnificently before powering it into the roof of the net. Smolov’s time on the bench just increased, although he can have no complaints now, with his fellow strike firing on all cylinders.