For the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia is looking advance to the knockout stage of the FIFA World Cup. If Saudi Arabia fails to defeat Uruguay, Russia will officially advance to the Round of 16, while Egypt will officially be eliminated. At this point, it’s likely that Russia and Uruguay will move on while Egypt and Saudi Arabia will be going home, but it’s not 100 percent official.
Here’s five takes from Russia’s win:
1. A focused Russian team: Russia came into this game coming off a well-played 5-0 victory over Saudi Arabia. Russia knew that reminiscing about their 5-0 victory would not help them, they decided to forget about it and just focus on Egypt. Because Russia was able to win 3-1, Russia went to defy their critics even further and prove to the world that they’re capable of playing great soccer.
2. A solid and well-organized Russian defense: Russia’s defense stepped onto the pitch and they were ready for anything. Egypt threatened numerous times to score in the early going, but Russia managed to always find a way out of the situation. The Russian defense inflicted pressure on the Egyptian attack by limiting them to only one shot-on-goal. The only mistake the Russian defense did was commit a foul in the penalty box, giving Egypt a penalty kick, which Egypt was able to capitalize on.
3. Egypt’s attack couldn’t finish what they started: As mentioned earlier, on numerous occasions, Egypt’s attack threatened to score only to either miss their shot or lose control of the ball. It’s perhaps safe to say that Egypt’s attack did crumble under pressure as of the 13 shots they had, they only had one shot-on-goal. Russia’s defense had an answer for every attack attempt by Mohamed Salah & company.
4. Egypt’s solid defense fell: For most of the game, Egypt’s defense was very solid and they were denying the Russians. In the first half, Egypt’s defense truly frustrating the Russians. However, in the second half, it began to change; Two minutes into the second half, Russia took the lead via an own goal by Egypt’s Ahmed Fathi. 12 minutes later Russia made it 2-0 and three minutes after that it was 3-0. Obviously, the Egyptian defense deserves criticism for allowing two goals in a three-minute span, but they don’t deserve all the blame because Egypt’s attack was unable to do their part of the deal. It’s safe to say that Egypt’s inability to score intensified the pressure that was already on Egypt’s defense and it crumbled in a crucial part of the game.
5. Mo Salah did not look like his usual self: Salah did not play in Egypt’s opening game against Uruguay, sparking some criticism on Egypt’s manager, Héctor Cúper, due to the reports that Salah was healthy and fit to play. It could be that Cúper took a precaution, but it’s unclear. Salah played the entire 90 minutes in this game and he struggled. Maybe he was nervous, maybe he’s not 100 percent, or maybe he’s just rusty. Salah did score his first World Cup via a penalty kick, but it wasn’t enough. He, too, seemed to have a hard time finishing his penetration through the Russian defense. While it’s a shame he couldn’t do enough to help his national team, in the end, we ought to understand that he shouldn’t have to carry them on his back. It’s a team effort.
It’s unfortunate for Egypt’s run to start with two heart-breaking losses. While it’s very likely they’ll crash out of their group, they have one more match against Saudi Arabia. They’ll be playing for pride, but there is some meaning in that; it’s about finishing strong and leaving with your head up. There’s no reason for Egypt to not try to put effort in their last game despite elimination. The same could be said for Saudi Arabia.