Russia took a giant step towards reaching the knock out stages of the 2018 FIFA World Cup today in their second of three group matches. The other two games saw Group H teams go head-to-head for the first time.
Russia roll on past Egypt
All the pre-match talk was about the return to the starting lineup of Mohamed Salah for Egypt. Salah may not have been at his very best, clearly still not fully recovered form his injury, but he did manage to score a consolation goal for his country as they went down by three goals to one against Russia.
Egypt knew they needed to win today's game if they were to have any hope of making it out of the group stages but their task was made much harder in the 49th minute when Ahmed Fathi put the ball into the back of his net. Roman Zobnin had sent the ball into the area after a parry from the goalkeeper and while trying to prevent Artem Dzyuba from getting to the deflected shot by Zobnin, Fathi ended up knocking the ball into his own goal. Things got progressively worse for Egypt after that as Russia piled on the misery. Denis Cheryshev made it two in the 59th minute when he redirected Mario Fernandes' cross for his third goal of the tournament. Dzyuba then added his name onto the scoresheet for the second game running in the 62nd minute with a lovely individual goal that saw him knock the ball around his defender before smashing it home. Salah got Egypt's solitary goal in the 73rd minute when he put his penalty past Igor Akinfeev but it wasn't enough for Egypt to gain something from this game/
Russia fully deserved the three points and they completely destroyed Egypt in a 17 minute second half spell. Not having to deal with an in-form Salah helped but full credit must go to the hosts who are currently showing all of their critics before the tournament started that they had judged them too early. Egypt on the other hand, were abysmal. Defensively, all of the tactical nous they showed against Uruguay disappeared and with Salah not running on all cylinders, no one else in the team stepped up to help. They are now looking at being completely out of the running to progress with one game still play in Group A.
An early sending off helps Japan against Colombia
After three minutes, Colombia were down to 10 men. That was not the start that anyone had expected as Group H began its World Cup campaign. Carlos Sánchez received his marching orders early in the match because of a deliberate handball and it left Colombia fighting against a constant surge of Japanese advances for the rest of the match.
Japan started the stronger of the two sides and that bright start led to Sánchez disappearing down the tunnel so early on. The defender was actually at fault for allowing Yuya Osako to go through on goal and when Shinji Kagawa got to David Ospina's save first, Sánchez stuck his arm out to stop the Japanese playmaker from scoring. Kagawa then stepped up and converted the penalty in the sixth minute, putting Japan ahead against the 10-men South Americans with 80 plus minutes still to go. Juan Quintero gave Colombia some hope in the 39th minute when he sent his free-kick under the wall and into the unoccupied part of the goal, fooling everyone in a Japanese shirt. However, the man-disadvantage made things difficult for Colombia and they could not stop Japan from taking the lead in the second half. Osako rose highest in the 73rd minute to meet Kagawa's corner and his header bounced off the post before rolling in and becoming the game-winning goal for Japan.
Ospina kept Colombia in the match for as long as he could with some fine saves but the pressure told and he could not do anything about Osako's goal. Colombia pushed for an equalizer late in the second half but Japan managed to hold on and record their first win at this edition of the World Cup.
Senegal stun Poland in Group H encounter
The other match in Group H saw Senegal ease past Poland and to be honest, the West African nation should have had more to show for it than their two goals. Mbaye Niang was outstanding for Senegal and his wingers, Sadio Mané and Ismaïla Sarr gave Poland's backline fits all game long.
Senegal's counter-attacking strategy paid dividends in the 37th minute when they broke forward quickly and played the ball between themselves well before Alfred N'Diaye went for goal form just outside the penalty area. His shot was deflected by Thiago Cionek and it took it past his goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny. Salif Sané should have made it two in the 41st minute when he was found completely unmarked during a Senegalese corner but the defender somehow sent his header wide. Robert Lewandoski, who had a quiet game by his standards, almost put Poland back on level terms in the 50th minute but his free-kick was batted away by Khadim N'Diaye to preserve Senegal's lead. Niang then opened his account in the tournament and stretched the lea din the 60th minute when he out-muscled Cionek, skipped by Szczęsny and slotted the ball home into an empty net. Grzegorz Krychowiak managed to find a goal late for Poland with a solid header in the 86th minute but Senegal stood firm to pick up all three points.
Lewandoski is probably one of the best players in the world but even his goal-scoring prowess could not overcome just how well Senegal played against Poland. Senegal now head into their next match full of confidence while Poland will have to re-think their strategy to maintain their hopes of qualifying for the knock out stage.