Denis Cheryshev and Artem Dzyuba fire Russia to last-16

Denis Cheryshev and Artem Dzyuba fire Russia to last-16

Denis Cheryshev couldn’t get in Russia’s team when the World Cup started. He is now the tournament’s joint top goalscorer. Russia were supposed to be on their way out at the group stage. If Uruguay beat Saudi Arabia today, they will join the South Americans as the first teams into the last 16.

It would be hard to convey just how woeful Russia have looked preparing for this competition, to anyone who has seen their first two games. Not that Saudi Arabia and Egypt are the trickiest opponents, but pressure does strange things.

Maybe that was the key. By being so uniformly hopeless, the hosts removed all expectation. They turned a home World Cup into a free hit; and then they knocked it out of the park.

In their opening two games, Russia have scored more goals than Spain did to win the 2010 World Cup. They have scored more goals than any host nation since Italy’s fabulous start in 1934. And they’re playing good football. No matter the opposition a team cannot score eight in two without playing well.

Russia got a break for the first goal, but no more than they deserved – and the next two were corkers. Mohamed Salah pulled one back from the penalty spot for Egypt, but he was clearly short of fitness and didn’t look the same player that inspired Liverpool’s run to the Champions League final. Unless Saudi Arabia win today, Egypt are out.

Still, good news for Sergio Ramos. He’s no longer the most unpopular defender in Egypt. That accolade now goes to the unfortunate Ahmed Fathi, whose own goal tilted this match in Russia’s direction.

Depending on your statistical source, Fathi – briefly of Sheffield United and Hull – has made between 124 and 130 appearances for his country. Either way, it just goes to show that experience isn’t everything. His intervention two minutes after half-time was truly calamitous.

Aleksandr Golovin struck a cross, which Mohamed El Shenawy in Egypt’s goal might have tried to take cleanly. Instead, he punched, only for the ball to be recycled by Roman Zobnin with a weak, scuffed shot.

Enter Fathi, who turned this tame effort into Russia’s opener, panicked by the towering presence of striker Artem Dzyuba, and slicing an attempted clearance into his own net.

He chased referee Enrique Caceres of Paraguay, claiming a foul to hide his embarrassment, but Dzyuba hardly did anything – and the shot wasn’t even on target. From there, Egypt collapsed.

In the 59th minute, Russia doubled their advantage, and Cheryshev claimed his third of the tournament – one more than he has scored in La Liga over the last two seasons. He was schooled at Real Madrid though, Cheryshev, and it shows.

Mario Fernandes’s cut-back from the by-line was perfect, but Cheryshev’s finish was super cool – slotting the ball past El Shenawy from six yards. He had never scored for his country before this tournament.

Then, three minutes later, the clincher. Ilya Kutepov played a long ball up to Dzyuba who showed the good touch for a big man of popular cliché before finishing smartly. Caceres would have made a hash of a foul on Salah, giving a free-kick outside the area, but was corrected by VAR.

The Liverpool man got his consolation goal from the penalty spot, a memory of a tournament that promise so much and delivered only heartbreak. Not for Russia, though. They’re flying.

For a team that was widely predicted to stink the place out, Russia are doing considerably better than the locals imagined. Buoyed by putting five past the tournament’s inferiors, Saudi Arabia, they were the better team in the first-half here against an Egypt side that had Mohamed Salah back, in spirit if not entirely in body.

He didn’t look quite right, didn’t look as if he trusted the troublesome shoulder that had kept him out since the Champions League final and that famous encounter with Sergio Ramos. The burst of acceleration was still there and, heaven knows, he was willing, desperately striving to give his country their first World Cup win.

But we’ve seen Salah – all 44 goals of him for Liverpool this season, and this wasn’t the same. It took him until the 42nd minute to have a crack at goal, when forward ally Marwan Mohsen let the ball run into his path on the right.

Yury Zhirkov did very well, staying just close enough to cause a nuisance and Salah couldn’t quite get the ball under control before shooting. His effort lacked power and went wide.

That aside, it needed Russian errors to give Egypt a sniff. Roman Zobnin lost the ball in central midfield and Trezeguet – he has a longer name, but his friends thought he looked like the former France striker, and the nickname stuck break before shooting, off-target.

At least, though, Egypt’s efforts came within sight of goal. Russia had a lot of possession, the best of the play and were enthusiastically endorsed in their endeavours by the home crowd – but it didn’t really equate to significant chances.

After six minutes the lively Aleksandr Golovin stole the ball from the Egyptian defence but shot narrowly wide. Denis Cheryshev also had an effort fly over from 20 yards, but that was it for the first half. Russia are not the weak link the hosts had feared, but the 5-0 humbling of Saudi Arabia was deceptive.

Egypt are nothing special, but they have basic quality at the back, and it was hard to break them down. Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov deployed the battering ram Artem Dzyuba in place of the inventive Alan Dzagoev, but for the first 45 minutes his influence was minimal.

Russia kept trying to find him from the flanks, to little avail. On the occasions when a cross came into the box, goalkeeper Mohamed El Shenawy claimed it.

Report by Martin Samuel/Dailymail online

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