World Cup hosts Russia virtually booked their place in the second round with a 3-1 win over Egypt on Tuesday that moved them to top of Group A with six points from two games.
A three goal blitz in the space of 15 minutes early in the second half put the Russians firmly in command before Egypt’s Mohamed Salah, who had a subdued game on his return from injury, struck from a penalty, awarded after a video review.
Should Uruguay (3 points) beat Saudi Arabia (0 points) on Wednesday, it will ensure the South Americans and the Russians go through to the round of 16 with a game to spare. A draw would also send the hosts through.
It is an unexpectedly positive situation for a Russian side that came into this tournament amidst scepticism and pessimism at home. After the two confident victories, with eight goals, the public appear to have taken the team to their hearts.
Egypt, whose final group game is against the Saudis, have only the slimmest of chances of staying in the tournament although they will at least be hopeful of picking up a first win in what is their third World Cup.
Hector Cuper’s side looked confident given the return of their talisman Salah, but the forward was short of full sharpness and made little impact in what was a tight first half.
But just two minutes after the interval, Russia got their breakthrough and they never looked back.
Aleksandr Golovin’s cross was punched out by Egyptian keeper Mohamed El-Shenawy, only as far as Roman Zobnin whose low drive was heading wide until Ahmed Fathi’s outstretched leg turned the ball into his own net.
Remarkably, it was the fifth own goal of the tournament so far. The record amount for a World Cup is six in 1998.
Colombia arrived at the World Cup lauded as one the most attractive teams, spearheaded by the influential James Rodriguez and with expectations of going far in the tournament.
It took just three minutes into Tuesday’s game against underdogs Japan in Saransk for their plans to unravel.
The dismissal of Carlos Sanchez just as their opening Group H match got underway meant the Colombians simply had too high a mountain to climb.
Although they still played with great style and bravery, and even drew level after Japan after had taken the lead with the penalty from Sanchez’s deliberate handball, their 10 men grew ever more weary in the second half.
Japan secured their first World Cup win against a South American side with goal from Yuya Osako in the 73rd minute.
Senegal became the first African team to win a match at the 2018 World Cup on Tuesday when they beat Poland 2-1, helped by an own goal from a Brazilian-born Polish defender and a nightmare moment for goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.
Thiago Cionek stuck out a leg and deflected Idrissa Gueye’s wayward shot into the net to give Senegal the lead with game’s first shot on target in the 37th minute.
The second goal was even more of a gift for the Lions of Teranga, who were making their first appearance at the World Cup since reaching the quarter-finals in 2002.
Poland midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak played the ball back from inside the Senegal half but the defence failed to notice that M’Baye Niang, who had been on the touchline receiving treatment, had re-entered the field.
“The player ran in, he was behind the side line of the pitch. There are no such situations on a daily basis,” said Poland defender Michal Pazdan.
“It does not change the fact that we lacked concentration at the beginning of the second half, because it seems that we could have played a different game, if they hadn’t scored 2-0.”
Niang, who at 23 has already played for Caen, AC Milan, Montpellier, Genoa, Watford and Torino, said: “I saw a ball coming back from the Polish defence. I felt there was something on and was able to get in there and score.” Krychowiak replied with an 86th minute header but it was too little for the Poles who are now in danger of repeating the group stage exit they suffered on their last appearance at the finals in 2006.
The win put Senegal and Japan, 2-1 winners over Colombia earlier on Tuesday, level on three points at the top of Group H.
It was a relief for Africa after Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria and Tunisia all lost their opening games.