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Artem Dzyuba secures second win for Russia with victory over Egypt
June 20, 2018, 12:57 am
The emotional spectrum of football was exposed after an hour. Russia’s hulking forward Artem Dzyuba spun off into the night, tapping his head, veins pumping, screaming, in recognition of one of the most momentous goals of his career. A masterful finish put Russia 3-0 up, and the scoreline effectively confirmed qualification and sent Egypt out.
As Dzubaya relished his moment, Mohamed Salah stood numbed in the centre circle, this weird adventure crushed. Hands on hips, staring into the middle distance, after all the dedicated hours of rehabilitation and all the hopes, a million roubles for his thoughts.
Egypt’s maestro hauled himself out of his melancholy trance and offered a half-hearted clap to try to rally his teammates but he knew. Everybody knew. Even with Salah back Egypt were unable to gate-crash the party.
Salah had been late to this fiesta and even if he had a moment when he was able to make his mark of sorts with a consolation goal from the penalty spot, he could do no more. Russia’s elation was merited. For all those who scoffed it was only Saudi Arabia when they opened the tournament with a 5-0 win, they produced another high‑energy display full of confident verve. So far, this World Cup could not be going any better for the hosts.
This might have been Russia’s night but Egypt brought a unique sense of occasion. Their fans were massed all over the ground, bringing a surge of excitement from the moment they saw Salah’s face on the big screens. The sense of hero worship created an expectancy that was almost unfathomable for a player whose fitness had been so instrumental to this World Cup experience for his country. From the moment the Egypt anthem coursed around the stadium it must have felt as if his whole footballing life had been leading up to this moment.
After three and a half weeks nursing his shoulder, Salah returned in a game played with frantic intensity. Russia were buoyant. The feelgood factor bristled around the St Petersburg Stadium. The noise was crackling long before kick-off. Russia began geared up to emulate the surging determination they showed against the Saudis.
Stanislav Cherchesov had claimed he had plans to nullify Salah, and evidently the plan was to dominate, to attack in numbers, to demand possession, to shoot on sight and to ping high balls into the box whenever possible. The ball was pushed forward with an urgency that heaped pressure on Egypt.
Héctor Cúper had urged his team to ensure there was more to them than Salah and their response was heartfelt. Two quickfire chances fell their way. Marwan Mohsen looked agonised to see his header squeeze past a post before Mahmoud Hassan checked inside to send a curler wide. It all felt helter-skelter, frenetically charged chances from all directions. Both managers gesticulated furiously, pounding their technical areas, immersed in the desperation. At a moment of brief respite when a shot sailed over the bar, the goalkeeper Ahmed El-Shenawy gestured to everybody to just calm down. Even for a second. Try to breathe.
Egypt began to weave together some moves, and suddenly Salah had a glimmer. Yury Zhirkov’s interception needed to be brave and well timed. Mohsen’s determination in the air certainly gave Russia another problem to think about. Just before half time the striker enhanced his reputation as the target to carve open chances for the main man with a dinked a pass for Salah, whose shot crept past the post.
Egypt’s hopes were hit by a bodyblow just after half time. Russia’s goal came suddenly and awkwardly. Instigated by Alexsandr Golovin, whose cross was punched weakly by El-Shenawy, Roman Zobnin struck the rebound into the ground and the trajectory was going wide. But Ahmed Fathi, Egypt’s captain, was worried about the presence of Dzyuba over his shoulder, flung himself anxiously in front of the Russian striker, and his clearance was clumsy – devastatingly so. The ball veered into the corner of the net.
Three decisive minutes around the hour mark transformed the game. Russia were elevated, Egypt flattened. Both goals were carved out with slick precision. First Denis Cheryshev cooly dispatched Mário Fernandes’s clever reverse pass. Then Dzyuba gave an exhibition of classic centre-forward power play, chesting the ball on before curling his shot past El-Shenawy.
Salah could not quite shake his inner belief when Egypt were awarded a penalty with the assistance of VAR, who advised the referee that a foul took place inside the area. He kissed the ball, put it down, and slammed in after an arcing run up.
And that, after all the attention, the national fervour, the work to try to help his nation in Russia, was that. The home team celebrated, the song Kalinka reverberating in their ears, with even more to look forward to in the days ahead.
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