All eyes on Salah as hopeful Egypt take on Russia

2018-06-19 14:13
Mohamed Salah (Getty)

Saint Petersburg - Egypt are counting on the return of Mohamed Salah on Tuesday as they try to salvage their Soccer World Cup against a Russian side who know a win could seal a place in the last 16.

Liverpool wizard Salah missed his team's 1-0 defeat by Uruguay on Friday as he struggles to recover from the shoulder injury he sustained during last month's Champions League final.

Russia will come to a standstill ahead of the kick-off in Saint Petersburg after 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.

The complexion of the game was changed radically when Colombia's Carlos Sanchez was shown the first red card of Russia 2018 for handball in the opening minutes of the contest.

Shinji Kagawa scored from the penalty spot and although Juan Quintero equalised late in the first half, Japan made their superior numbers count, with Yuya Osako heading a winner in the 73rd minute.

Japan's build-up to Russia has been tumultuous after coach Vahid Halilhodzic was sacked in April and replaced by Akira Nishino despite steering the team to the finals.

But they will be delighted to start their Russian campaign with a victory after failing to notch a single win in Brazil four years ago -- including a painful 4-1 defeat at the hands of Colombia.

"I said at half-time that if we can keep the ball moving, we can deprive the Colombia players of their stamina," said Nishino.

"Our players were aggressive from the start and I think that worked very well for us. This is just one win and three points, so we will save our celebration."

In the other Group H clash on Tuesday, Poland were facing Senegal in Moscow in a match billed as a shootout between Liverpool's fleet-footed forward Sadio Mane and Bayern Munich frontman Robert Lewandowski.

Eighth-ranked Poland started the match at Spartak Stadium as favourites led by Lewandowski, who netted 41 times in all competitions last season.

After a disappointing showing at the Euros in France two years ago, the Polish forward said he was entering the tournament in a different frame of mind from 2016.

"I'm sure that training will be better now and that I'll be fresh and dynamic at the right time," he said. "I started preparing for the World Cup much earlier."

Tuesday's round of fixtures will mean that all 32 teams in the tournament have now played at least once.

SALAH SHOULDER INJURY

Salah's shoulder has continued to cause him problems in Russia, and at the weekend he needed the help of three team-mates to put a shirt on during a training session in Grozny.

Egypt's Argentine coach Hector Cuper said on Monday Salah was fit to play but will undergo a test before kick-off in Saint Petersburg.

"I hope he will be fit to play, I'm sure he will be able to play. He is a central piece in our team," Cuper said.

If Egypt lose, it will likely end their competitive involvement in their first World Cup since 1990, so 96 million Egyptians are willing him to be on the pitch.

Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov was bullish that his team can rein in the explosive striker, who scored 44 goals in a remarkable debut season at Liverpool.

"We know how to play against him," he said. "We are ready to stop Salah and we will."

Russia got their World Cup off to the perfect start on Thursday with a 5-0 thrashing of Saudi Arabia but are under no illusions that the seven-time African champions pose a far tougher test -- providing Salah plays.

"Egypt's game with Salah is different from the one they play without him," forward Alexei Miranchuk said.

On Monday, England made hard work of a 2-1 win over Tunisia in Volgograd, relying on an injury-time Harry Kane header to take the three points. Third-ranked Belgium waltzed past World Cup newbies Panama 3-0.

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