ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — Two wins, eight goals and almost certainly a place in the knockout stage for first time since the Soviet era.
Russia is enjoying quite the party at its own World Cup — and not even the highly anticipated return of Mohamed Salah could slow it down Tuesday.
Confounding grim pre-tournament predictions, the host nation earned a second straight emphatic victory to start the group stage by beating Egypt 3-1. Having already routed Saudi Arabia 5-0, Russia is likely to be celebrating a spot in the round of 16 by Wednesday evening and few could have seen that happening so soon.
“It’s a group of solidarity and cohesion,” said Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov, who whipped up the crowd by waving his arms in delight on the field after the final whistle. “You mention difficulties, problems. We don’t like these words. We don’t have this in our vocabulary. We had some issues and we dealt with it.”
Like a string of pre-tournament injuries that ravaged the defense. Like a run of seven winless games heading into the tournament. The Russians started the World Cup as the lowest-ranked team at the tournament at No. 70, but they aren’t playing like it.
Three goals in a 15-minute span early in the second half did the damage against Egypt, with Ahmed Fathi poking the ball into his own net — the fifth own-goal of the tournament — to put Russia ahead in the 47th minute. Denis Cheryshev, with his third goal of the World Cup, and striker Artyom Dzyuba then scored in quick succession before Salah won and converted a consolation penalty in his first game back after 3 1/2 weeks out with a shoulder injury.
Salah needed to produce the type of performance he delivered nearly every week for Liverpool this season, when he scored 44 goals in 51 games, but it was clear from the start that he was staying out of anything too physical on his return from damaged ligaments in his left shoulder sustained in the Champions League final.
Aside from his goal, Salah was quiet in his first ever match at a World Cup, much to the dismay of the Egypt fans in the stadium who roared every time their star player’s face flashed up on the big screen and when his name was announced before kickoff. Not to mention the 90 million Egyptians back home.
“I was told by the medical staff that he was fit, feeling good,” Egypt coach Hector Cuper said. “He couldn’t prepare with us in the training camp, he had to train alone. Maybe that meant his total physical ability was reduced.”
Egypt’s first World Cup in 28 years could be over in barely five days, while Russia’s place in the round of 16 will be assured if Uruguay wins or draws against the Saudis today.
Those two scenarios would also eliminate Egypt.
Japan 2, Colombia 1
SARANSK, Russia — Japan did what no other Asian team had ever done at a World Cup — beat a South American squad on the biggest stage in soccer.
The victory over Colombia on Tuesday was another surprising result in an unpredictable tournament.
A costly mistake by Colombia midfielder Carlos Sanchez in the opening minutes led to a red card and a penalty, helping Japan take an early lead. Coming in the third minute, it was the second fastest red card in World Cup history and the first of this year’s tournament.
Yuya Osako won a bouncing ball to begin a sequence that led to the red card and the penalty. Sanchez blocked Shinji Kagawa’s shot with his extended right arm and was ejected. Kagawa then converted from the spot.
Colombia, which played with 10 men for the rest of the match, scored late in the first half on Juan Quintero’s rolling but accurate free kick, which sneaked inside the right post. Osako’s gritty determination led to a 73rd-minute header from Keisuke Honda’s corner kick that gave Japan three points in Group H.
Senegal 2, Poland 1
MOSCOW — Senegal midfielder Mbaye Niang saw the signal from the referee to re-enter following treatment for an injury and jogged along the center line. Then Niang noticed Poland’s Grzegorz Krychowiak loft a backpass to Jan Bednarek, who hadn’t realized Niang was back on the field.
Niang outsprinted goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny to reach the ball about 40 yards from the net, knocked the ball forward and tapped it in for Senegal’s second fluky goal of the night. The Lions of Teranga held on for a win over Poland and opened the World Cup with a surprising victory — just like in 2002.
“You have to deserve your luck,” Niang said. “We were rewarded today for our work. You have to seize your chances when they are given to you.”
Senegal became the first African team to win at this year’s World Cup after Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria and Tunisia were outscored 6-1 in losses.