Russia kept their perfect start to the 2018 FIFA World Cup going with a 3-1 win over Egypt on Tuesday at Saint Petersburg Stadium despite Mohamed Salah’s return to the Pharaohs’ starting XI.
Egypt gave the World Cup hosts a firmer test than Saudi Arabia but still pulled away with a vital win after Denis Cheryshev scored his third goal in two matches.
An Ahmed Fathi own goal after half-time put Russia within reach of a second successive victory, only for Cheryshev and Artem Dzyuba to score within three minutes of each other and effectively seal their team’s place in the round of 16.
The hype was as high as one would expect leading up to Salah’s start on Tuesday, but what could have been a fairy-tale comeback became a story of underperformance.
Manager Hector Cuper deemed the Group A opener against Uruguay too soon a return date, but the cobwebs still looked evident, as Salah’s World Cup effectively ended after 90 minutes, via Metro:
Some aid from the video assistant referee ensured Salah at least finished with a spot-kick goal to his name in the 73rd minute, though it came after an uncharacteristically tame first half.
Barely three weeks have passed since a tussle with Sergio Ramos in the UEFA Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid on May 26 left Salah’s World Cup in doubt, and Tuesday’s display suggested all is still not right.
If not in a physical sense, then at least with the winger’s approach to the task at hand, as he appeared to not be at his voracious best all too frequently.
Hopeful balls were lofted up to Marwan Mohsen, while Trezeguet floated in off his wing to have a say in front of goal. But it appeared to be clear that Salah was the only one with the class to make the dent.
For Egypt to have any hope of a impressive performance against the World Cup elite, they need him. We know that now more than we did prior to Tuesday’s Group A match, and he certainly wasn’t at his most involved, per the Independent:
No Egyptian player had fewer touches than Mohamed Salah (19) in the opening half against Russia.
The nature of Russia’s growing lead in the second half stirred something in Salah, an anger and frustration you could feel in his elevated play, but Cuper’s team needed that from the first whistle.