Too little, too late for clearly injured Salah as Russia begin to embrace World Cup hype

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The Liverpool man was nowhere near his usual self and his country now face early elimination from the World Cup as the hosts progress

By the time the real Mohamed Salah finally stood up, it was already too late.

Clearly rushed back into the Egypt side, despite official declarations that he was fit enough to start their opening game last Friday, the Liverpool man could only rally himself, and his country, when they were already 3-0 down and facing the possibility of World Cup elimination as early as Wednesday afternoon.

After 67 minutes of loose touches and little else, Salah did at least provide a cameo of what could have been, had he not injured his shoulder in the Champions League final just over three weeks ago.

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In the first half, he touched the ball fewer times than any of his outfield team-mates. He looked lost, far from the talisman of this team and one of the best players in the world on last season's form.

He did not look ready and it appeared his team-mates knew it; he rarely looked to get involved and they rarely looked for him either. 

Russia could only make their resultant dominance pay two minutes into the second half, when Ahmed Fathi bounced off the giant Artem Dzyuba and contrived to slice the ball into his own net.

It was hardly a classic but the hosts cemented their lead with two neat goals within three minutes, with Denis Cheryshev and Dzyuba himself finishing off neat moves.

Only then, five minutes after his team conceded their third goal, that Salah showed that he had something in the tank. A tidy pass on the edge of the box presented Trezeguet with an opening, but he placed a shot wide.

Moments later, Salah sprinted at full tilt, as he had not done since the end of the club season, to win the ball back deep in the Russia half, only for another loose touch to waste the advantage.

Not long after that he won a penalty following another burst forward, which proved too much for Roman Zobnin to handle. Salah stepped up himself, of course, and blasted his effort down the middle, and while he does at least now have a World Cup goal to his name, he will be left to rue that it could have been so much more.

He could fill his boots against Saudi Arabia even this far below his best, but it is likely that it will make no difference. If Uruguay draw with the Saudis on Wednesday, Egypt will be out.

The game to watch when Group A comes to a close next Monday, then, would be Russia against Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani & Co. 

 

Few gave the hosts much chance of making a mark at this competition, including millions of their own fans, but they have now put in two accomplished performances.

Given many fancied Uruguay and Salah's Egypt to make it out of the group, the hosts' exploits deserve credit. Yes, the draw was favourable to say the least, even down to the fortunate organisation of the fixtures, but out of so little expectation they are creating a buzz, at home and abroad. 

Aleksandr Golovin was the star of the 5-0 defeat of Saudi Arabia and he was once more impressive against Egypt in St Petersburg, and again he was joined by Cheryshev, who certainly knows how to arrive into the box at the right time.

An already injury-ravaged squad was further hit by Alan Dzagoev's hamstring problem in the opener but in his absence the tree-sized Dzyuba is coming to the fore. He was the target of an innumerable amount of first-half crosses, and his sheer presence led to the opening goal here, but he also proved there is more to his game with a tidy finish that sent the home crowd into raptures.

Many Russians had been downplaying the significance of their opening victory in recent days, pointing instead to Saudi Arabia's dreadful showing. But it is clear that belief, and pride, is now growing.

The hosts are through to the next round and for them the party will go on. But Egypt, who arrived here with much higher hopes even despite those doubts over their main man, they are surely on their way home.

Salah's dream season has descended into a nightmare.

 

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