Saint Petersburg (AFP) – Mohamed Salah was named in Egypt’s starting line-up on Tuesday as they try to salvage their 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 for the game 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, Senegal recorded the first African win at the Russian showpiece when they beat Poland 2-1, thanks to a deflected Thiago Cionek own goal and a terrible error by Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, which resulted in a goal for Mbaye Niang.
West Bromwich Albion midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak got Poland back in the game with an 86th-minute header but Senegal hung on at Moscow’s Spartak Stadium.
In a match billed as a straight fight between super-strikers Robert Lewandowski and Sadio Mane, neither scored but Liverpool striker Mane set up Idrissa Gueye for the shot that took a wicked deflection off Cionek, leaving Szczesny totally wrong-footed in the Polish goal for Senegal’s opener on 37 minutes.
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.
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 last 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.