JOHANNESBURG - Was that stunning 5-0 win against Saudi Arabia the result of a team carried by a wave of patriotic fervour or is the Russian team going to prove that rankings mean nothing in the bigger scheme of things?
We will find out on Tuesday when the host nation take on an Egyptian side looking to make up for their poor start to the tournament. Russia, ranked lowest of all the 32 countries contesting for football’s premier prize, were ruthless in decimating a hapless Saudi Arabian side that hardly got a look-in. But sport is fickle at the top, and impressive feats such as those of Denis Cheryshev, who scored a brace in that opener, will be truly tested only against solid opposition.
Egypt should provide this, their defeat to Uruguay notwithstanding. The North Africans should have their talismanic striker Mohamed Salah in their starting line-up after coach Hector Cuper decided to rest him in the opener after he’d recovered from a shoulder injury sustained while playing for Liverpool in the Champions League final against Real Madrid last month.
The Pharaohs know they cannot afford yet another defeat, or their first appearance at the global spectacle since 1990 will be over after just two matches. It makes for a fascinating clash, with the hosts keen to book their round of 16 ticket before they take on Uruguay, who should beat Saudi Arabia tomorrow. Will Salah make up for the Champions League mishap with a grand entry to the World Cup stage or will Cheryshev put the cherry on top of his sterling opening showing?
Tuesday's World Cup fixtures: Colombia v Japan, 1.45pm, SS3; Poland v Senegal, 4.45pm, SS3, SABC2; Russia v Egypt, 7.45pm, SS3, SABC2