World Cup hosts Russia virtually booked their place in the second round with a 3-1 win over Egypt on Tuesday that moved them to top of Group A with six points from two games.
Three goals in the space of 15 minutes early in the second half put the Russians firmly in command before Egypt’s Mohamed Salah, who had a subdued game on his return from injury, struck from a penalty, awarded after a video review.
Should Uruguay (3 points) beat Saudi Arabia (0 points) on Wednesday it will ensure the South Americans and the Russians go through to the round of 16 with a game to spare.
After a tight first half Russia’s breakthrough came just two minutes after the restart.
Aleksandr Golovin’s cross was punched out by Egyptian keeper Mohamed El-Shenawy, only as far as Roman Zobnin whose low drive was heading wide until Ahmed Fathi’s outstretched leg turned the ball into his own net.
Remarkably, it was the fifth own goal of the tournament so far. The record amount for a tournament is six in 1998.
If there was some good fortune to the opener, the Russians’ second was pure quality.
Alexander Samedov pushed the ball out wide to Mario Fernandes, the Brazilian born right back who had powered forward from deep to deliver a perfect pull-back into the path of Denis Cheryshev who slotted home his third goal of the tournament.
Two minutes later it was 3-0 via a route one play, as target man Artem Dzyuba chested down a long ball, bustled past Ali Gabr and drove home.
Salah, who had not played since going off injured in Liverpool’s Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid last month, managed some consolation when he converted from the spot after a video assistant referee (VAR) ruling that he had been brought down by Zobnin inside the area.