SAINT PETERSBURG, Russia - Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov hopes the best is yet to come for the World Cup hosts after they virtually sealed their place in the last 16 by easing past Egypt 3-1 despite Mohamed Salah's return on Tuesday.
An own goal by Egypt captain Ahmed Fathi opened the floodgates on a sodden night in Saint Petersburg before goals from Denis Cheryshev and Artem Dzyuba bolstered Russian hopes they can defy pre-tournament expectations with a deep run into the latter stages. Salah did net Egypt's first goal at a World Cup in 28 years from the penalty spot after he had been hauled down 17 minutes from time, but it was too little, too late for the Pharaohs.
Russia will be guaranteed a place in the last 16 and Egypt eliminated unless Saudi Arabia beat Uruguay on Wednesday. "I hope there are many more to come," said Cherchesov when asked if he had enjoyed the best day of his life by almost certainly leading Russia into the knockout stages for the first time since 1986.
A run of seven games without a win leading into the tournament had dampened expectations in the host nation. However, after smashing Saudi Arabia 5-0 in the opening game, Russia showed they are a force to contend with in the latter stages of the competition by blowing Egypt away with a three-goal salvo in 15 second-half minutes.
"We have made a step in the right direction," added Cherchesov when asked if Russia could now go onto win the World Cup. And he claimed too much was made of poor friendly results in the past year when facing marquee opposition such as France, Spain, Brazil and Argentina.
"Everybody remembers our games from the past but people forget when you play against the teams we played against, you need to be prepared very well. We did our homework in the preparation and selection of the players. We are very happy to give this joy to our supporters."
Salah was making his first appearance since injuring his left shoulder when falling heavily after being dragged to the ground by Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos in the Champions League final just over three weeks ago.
He had missed Friday's 1-0 defeat to Uruguay and Salah looked far from the player who scored 44 goals in his debut season with Liverpool, and former Chelsea left-back Yuri Zhirkov was not afraid to test his fitness with a series of robust challenges.
"I think that no-one can doubt the importance he has for the national team," said Egypt coach Hector Cuper. "It is very difficult to know what would have happened (had he not been injured) but we know the quality he has."