Russia Review: Day Six

Day Six of this summer’s World Cup marked the end of the first round of group games and the start of the second, as hosts Russia looked to all-but guarantee their place in the last 16 for the first time in over 30 years.

There were thrills and spills, shocks and surprises, and even the tournament’s first red card. Day Six marked just another chapter in the whirlwind tale that is Russia 2018.

Sanchez red spoils Pekerman’s plans

Japan registered their fifth win in World Cup history with a victory over favourites to top the group Colombia in a thrilling encounter at the Mordovia Arena.

The quarter-finalists of 2014 started the fixture without star-man James Rodriguez, whilst Japan were without their striker Shinji Okazaki due to a calf strain.

This did not hinder the game from immediate drama as the first red card of the tournament was shown to Carlos Sanchez in the third minute, when the Colombian midfielder handled the ball in the box to block a shot.

Colombia were further punished with a penalty, which Shinji Kagawa coolly slotted home to fire Japan into an unexpected early lead.

This was the start of an action-packed first half, with chances at either end.

The Japanese failed to make their numerical advantage count in their favour, as they were pegged back six minutes before the break.

Juan Quintero, James Rodriguez’ replacement in the team, made the most of his inclusion with an astute free-kick that was squeezed underneath the Japanese wall to beat Kawashima at his near-post.

41,000 Colombian fans in the stadium celebrated, as their beloved Colombia were not phased by the numerical disadvantage, heading into the break as the better side.

Despite the valiant efforts of Pekerman’s Colombia, they ran out of steam as the second half ticked on, and Japan looked the more likely to score, creating chances in abundance. Arsenal’s David Ospina was on form in the Colombian goal, denying Japan on a number of occassions.

Japan’s second half dominance was rewarded when substitute Keisuke Honda found Yuya Osako in the box from a corner, who outjumped his marker and headed beyond Ospina’s reach.

Colombia tried to respond, but never really threatened the Japanese goal, with James Rodriguez and Carlos Bacca coming off the bench, but ultimately being ineffective.

Many times, red cards change games for the worst. This game, the red card made for an open game which either side could’ve won. Colombia had the best of the first half, but Japan dominated the second, making the numerical advantage count.

This is the first World Cup since 1974 that as many as four South American sides have failed to win their opening game, and Colombia will need to respond, starting on Sunday when they face Poland in Kazan.

Costly Krychowiak error crushes Poles

Senegal followed the Group H trend set by Japan earlier in the day of underdogs winning, by defeating a strong Poland side.

It was ultimately an M’Baye Niang strike which sealed the three points for Aliou Cisse’s side, when West Brom’s Gregorsz Krychowiak gifted the striker possession. The AC Milan owned striker nipped in ahead of the goalkeeper Sczeszny and tapped home from close distance.

The first half was rather passive, with neither team really exerting themselves.

The opening goal came when Everton’s Idrissa Gana Gueye struck the ball from the edge of the box into defender Cionek – the shot took a cruel deflection, giving the goalkeeper no chance, as he had already dived in the opposite direction.

Poland failed to register an instant respose, and never really threatened bar a few half chances.

Robert Lewandowski was the man who the Polish rested their best chance of success on, but the Bayern Munich striker failed to deliver. He won a free kick on the edge of the box early in the second half, but his effort was fired straight at the Senegalese goalkeeper N’Diaye.

Poland’s lack of creativity ultimately cost them, as they were punished just after the hour mark. Krychowiak looked for a back pass to his goalkeeper, however could not get the power or distance on his pass, selling Szczesny short.

Torino’s striker M’Baye Niang got to the ball first, tapping it past the goalkeeper before slotting home to send Senegal on their way to a historic victory.

It wasn’t without nerves though. Krychowiak was on hand to atone for his earlier error four minutes from time when he brilliantly headed in a free-kick, but it was to no avail as their African opponents held out.

Senegal’s victory sets Group H up for an exciting finish, with Cisse’s side set to play Japan on Sunday in Ekaterinburg, where three points for either side could see them qualify in a group that Poland and Colombia were widely tipped to progress.

Sensational second half sees hosts all-but through

World Cup hosts Russia scored three goals in 15 second half minutes to all-but secure their place in the last 16 for the first time since 1986, in a win that also effectively eliminated opponents Egypt.

The 3-1 victory means anything other than a Saudi Arabia win against Uruguay tomorrow will see Russia progress and the Egyptians bow out less than a week into the tournament.

Knowing they needed a win, Egypt’s hopes were boosted ahead of kick-off when it was confirmed that Mo Salah would be starting his first match since sustaining a shoulder injury in Liverpool’s Champions League final defeat in Kiev last month.

But even he couldn’t inspire the Africans to victory, despite scoring a penalty.

Russia started relatively well in what was a cauldron of noise in St Petersburg. They registered a number of early attempts on goal, including one from the curtain-raiser’s star man Aleksandr Golovin, which was fired just wide.

Most of the first period was pretty cagey, but the second half was anything but as the hosts took control.

Less than two minutes in, Egypt goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shenawy punched a cross away as far as Russia’s Roman Zobnin, who drilled the ball back in. Defender Ahmed Fathi stuck a leg out, and cruelly diverted the ball into the corner of his own net to give put the hosts ahead.

The Egyptians needed a response, but Russia kept coming at them.

Just before the hour, a free-flowing move culminated with full-back Mário Fernandes pulling the ball back across the box for one of day one’s heroes, Denis Cheryshev, who slotted home his third goal of the tournament to double his side’s advantage.

And they weren’t content with two, as just three minutes later, target man Artem Dzyuba chested down a long ball before finishing with great composure to send the Russian supporters into delirium.

Egypt needed a miracle and may have struggled even with a fully-fit Mo Salah, who seemed out of sorts.

But the Liverpool forward did get the chance to score his first World Cup goal, earning a penalty after being brought down in the box with less than 20 minutes remaining.

Salah dusted himself down and dispatched it confidently, but it wasn’t enough for Egypt, who now seem set to miss out once again on their first ever appearance in the knockout stages of a World Cup.

Player of the Day – Denis Cheryshev (Russia)

Heading into this summer’s World Cup, not many gave hosts Russia much of a chance.

Even their own supporters weren’t optimistic, claiming the national team was in its worst ever state and that they would be unceremoniously dumped out of their home tournament in the group stage.

But from what we’ve seen so far, it’s been anything but, as the Class of 2018 continued their surprising start with success over Egypt today.

Amazingly, tonight’s 3-1 win means the Russians have enjoyed the best opening two games of any World Cup host ever, beating Italy’s 1934 side by virtue of the fact they have conceded one less goal.

And one man who has been key in both games is unlikely man Denis Cheryshev, who put in another stellar man-of-the-match performance this evening, topped off with a goal.

At the age of 27, the Villarreal man only had 11 caps to his name heading into the tournament and was yet to register a goal on the international stage.

But despite that and the fact he didn’t even start the hosts’ opener against Saudi Arabia, Cheryshev has already scored three goals – making him the competition’s joint-top scorer with Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo – and fast become one of Russia’s most talked-about stars.

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. Cheryshev had an impressive and respectable upbringing as a footballer, joining Spanish giants Real Madrid as an 11-year-old and spending nearly a decade-and-a-half with the club. It’s perhaps this time amongst football’s elite that has fine-tuned his technical ability which was so evident in his classy finish for the Russians’ fourth goal against Saudi Arabia.

He made 24 league appearances for Villarreal last season but is by no means a permanent fixture in the side. If he is to continue his current form however and fire Russia to even further unlikely heights this summer, Cheryshev could well become one of the most sought-after players in the transfer window across the planet.

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