Weblog: The football punter

Egyptian king Salah ready to make his mark

World Cup Group A
BBC1, 7pm Tuesday

Russia started their World Cup campaign in fine fashion but they may not be so comfortable against Egypt in St Petersburg.

There were pre-tournament concerns that Russia could be one of the worst host teams in World Cup history, but those fears eased by their 5-0 stroll over Saudi Arabia on Thursday.

Yuri Gazinsky got the party started after 12 minutes and it was easy all the way as confidence quickly returned to the team and the fans carried Stanislav Cherchesov's side forward in a wave of national euphoria.

It was almost as if the last couple of years of awful preparation had not happened. The failure to win in seven friendlies prior to the World Cup was fake news and those who believed it would be all right on the night were proved correct.

Or maybe Saudi Arabia were just awful.

The smallest side in terms of height at the World Cup were battered from crosses, goalkeeper Abdullah Al Mayouf looked as if he had never previously worn a pair of gloves and their wide-open tactics were ridiculous given the players were unable to perform as instructed.

Life is unlikely to be so simple for Russia against an Egyptian side set to be boosted by the return of their king Mohamed Salah.

Assuming Salah is back - and all the vibes suggest he will be in the starting 11 following a shoulder injury - there will be a new dimension to the Egypt team not seen in their 1-0 loss to Uruguay.

Egypt defended reasonably well against the star-studded front two of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, while keeper Mohamed El-Shenawy appeared to be several levels superior to Al Mayouf.

Crucially, Hector Cuper's defence possess the height to nullify Russia in a way that proved beyond Saudi Arabia.

Tall centre-backs Ali Gabr and Ahmed Hegazi will relish the physical test and there is pace in Salah and Trezeguet to cause problems, presuming that Egypt play with more adventure in game two.

There is a chance Egypt could get caught on the break themselves if they over-commit but it should not be anything like the space Russia were allowed against the Saudis when they finished so clinically.

Aleksandr Golovin impressed for the hosts, but striker Fyodor Smolov failed to fire and his possible replacement, Artem Dzyuba, a lumpy striker lacking finesse, is not much of an upgrade.

There was also so little in the way of attacking from Saudi Arabia that it is difficult to know if Russia have solved the defensive problems many had raised before the tournament started.

Looking back to 38-year-old Sergei Ignashevich smacked of desperation and if Salah gets the chance to run the veteran centre-back it could get messy. 

Alan Dzagoev, arguably Russia's best player, is injured and they don't make much appeal to win as a draw, given their plus-five goal difference, could be considered a decent result.

Egypt draw no bet

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Match in Focus

16:00 TODAY BBC1

Uruguay v Saudi Arabia

Home Win Draw Away Win
Key stats
  • Saudi Arabia have failed to score in six of their last seven matches at the World Cup finals
Expert verdict
Uruguay required a late winner to to see off Egypt but can stamp their authority early against minnows Saudi Arabia, who look out of their depth. Oscar Tabarez’s troops have kept four clean sheets on the spin and can silence the Saudis, who look short on attacking threat and may set themselves up to limit the damage.