Egyptian fans were hanging off every word, internet rumour and conspiracy theory that promised news of Mohamed Salah‘s return and finally their hero arrived on the scene at St Petersburg on Tuesday night.
The Pharoah tale turned out to be a nightmare however as Salah was powerless to stop the Russian red tide from stomping to a 3-1 victory – despite the late penalty that he won and scored.
Below, we take a close-up view of the Egyptian King’s performance.
Goals – 1
Assists – 0
Shots – 4
Shots on target – 1
Key passes – 2
Passing accuracy – 79%
Dribbles – 0
Touches – 36
Salah was closely monitored by Yuri Zhirkov from the get-go, though his injury-hit shoulder lasted the course through some fair but robust challenges.
There were a few slick trademark touches early on but the Liverpool star elected to stay in and around the hosts’ back-line for much of the first half, in clear hope that his team-mates would pick him out and he could turn on the after-burners.
As the goals flowed in, Salah progressively came deeper before Roman Zobnin tugged him down in the penalty box with 20 minutes to go and he expertly dispatched his spot-kick.
Every time Salah got on the ball with a sliver of space his class compared to that of his team-mates was stark. It would have frustrated him that he never got a clear run on the glacial left-sided pairing of Zhirkov and Sergei Ignashevich but it was hardly his fault that Mohamed Elneny and Co were consistently ponderous in midfield.
He supplied a couple of neat passes to fellow forward Trezeguet in the first 45 and was only denied at the back post by an outstretched Zhirkov. After the break he set up a fine chance for Marwan Mohsen, who shortly after could have won a second penalty after being wrestled to the ground by Ignashevich.
Despite his glut of goals for Liverpool last season, there are games where Salah needs more than just the one chance to find the back of the net and sadly this was the case here.
The 26-year-old did not miss any gilt-edged chances but nor were his opportunities mere hit-and-hopes. His pirouette on the edge of the box in the first half fooled Zhirkov only for his curling shot to go wide. Then, with the scoreline still just 1-0, he latched on to a flick-on in the area before hesitancy cost him a clear pop at goal.
Would the very best have scored at least one out of the two? You’d have thought so.
42nd minute, SHOT: Salah shakes free of Zhirkov’s close attention but there’s not enough bend on his effort.
68th minute, CHANCE: Shows good balance and awareness to set up Mohsen, whose tame effort rolls wide.
73rd minute, PENALTY: After VAR intervenes, Salah is adjudged to have been brought down in the box and he lashes the penalty home expertly.
Considering he left Kiev in tears a little more than three weeks ago, Salah did not run out of puff or look particularly uncomfortable upon his return.
Instead it was his Egyptian colleagues that looked slightly out of their depth in the country’s first tournament for 28 years – particularly in midfield.
He was at the centre of the Pharaohs’ best moves and was emboldened as the game went on. It’s just a shame that by then the match, and indeed the World Cup, was out of reach.
RATING – 7/10
Ronaldo was in stunning form against Spain as he netted a hat-trick, including a glorious free kick in the final minutes to level the score.
Watch Ronaldo and Portugal putting in work during training in the video below.
The Lions of Teranga roared into an early lead shortly before the break when a shot from Everton’s Idrissa Gueye took a huge deflection off the unfortunate Thiago Cionek.
They extended that lead midway through the second half, but in controversial fashion as M’Baye Niang sprinted back on to the field of play after injury and immediately intercepted an awkward looking backpass from Grzegorz Krychowiak, beating former Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny and Southampton defender Jan Bednarek to the ball to slot into an empty net.
Confusion reigned while many of the Polish players were disgusted, they protested in vain to referee Nawaf Shukralla.
Poland created little, but ensured there would be a frantic finale when West Brom midfielder Krychowiak headed home brilliantly from a deep free-kick at the far post.
Senegal’s 16-year surge
Senegal have already played a star role in African World Cup history when they magically marched all the way to the last eight on debut in 2002.
They now share the limelight with Ghana after the Black Stars shone brightly at South Africa in 2010, with Cameroon the original pioneers for the continent after reaching the quarter-finals of Italia 90.
In a wide open Group H, Senegal would still have been picked to struggle against Poland – who have both FIFA world ranking (there are 19 places separating Polskie Orly in eighth and the Lions of Teranga in 27th) and overall World Cup pedigree in their favour, having twice finished third on the game’s grand stage.
But under Aliou Cisse, Senegal have cemented a reputation as a resilient unit who thoroughly entertain. They have won 25 of the 42 games under the guidance of the man who led them on the field in South Korea and Japan 16 years ago, with just three defeats in the last 25 games, over a two-year period.
With lethal Liverpool wideman Sadio Mane and fellow winger Keita Balde, as well as marauding Everton midfielder Idrissa Gueye providing the silk and Napoli colossus Kalidou Koulibaly and West Ham hardman Cheikhou Kouyate the steel, Cisse has a side to rival the revolutionaries that he stood alongside and made such huge strides with.
Brazil, Germany, Belgium and England all likely lie in wait on a treacherous path to this year’s quarter-finals, but on this performance the Lions of Teranga will certainly not provide easy prey.
The Krychowiak conundrum
A wonderful player at his best, but the former Paris Saint-Germain man’s career has taken a peculiar turn since he left Sevilla after being part of two of their three unprecedented Europa League successes between 2014-16.
After enriching his medal collection, he left Spain to fill his pockets by electing the path to the Parisian giants.
He followed former coach Unai Emery to the French capital but hardly featured in a midfield stacked with both experienced veterans and exciting young dynamos, earning just 19 appearances in 2016/17.
He was oddly then loaned out to nomadic Premier League strugglers West Brom last term and his dramatic fall from grace was encapsulated by barely featuring for the Baggies either – his welcome experience at the elite level ignored in spite of the Black Country side wading through the mire of a season-long losing battle against relegation.
He was ignored in favour of the plodding Jake Livermore, making just 31 appearances in total and only 20 Premier League starts.
All this considered, it was perhaps a surprise to see Poland coach Adam Nawalka opt to pick him in his starting line-up against an energetic Senegal team – one that clearly boast tremendous pace.
A first-half booking for scything down M’Baye Niang was compounded by a crucial mistake that led to Niang’s clinching second goal – although he at least redeemed himself by superbly converting Kamil Grosicki’s deep free-kick to make it 2-1 and give his side a fighting chance of a point. Better to come from the Polish midfield pivot.
Sane the Mane man rather than Sadio
There are several stars in this Senegal side, but Liverpool’s Sadio Mane is undoubtedly the brightest one.
And although the Lions of Teranga boast several other standouts in their pride, such as Napoli rock Koulibaly and Monaco menace Balde, it was Sane rather than Mane that shone in their opener.
Salif Sane, the 6ft 4in centre-back, is the 10th-oldest member of this 23-man Lion’s pack at 27, but is a relative pub having earned just 19 caps.
But there was no semblance of hesitancy or nerves as he put in a commanding performance – outshining compatriot Koulibaly, who is regarded as one of Europe’s most elite central defenders.
Sane’s stats sheet reads like a glowing CV; six clearances (the most of any player on the field), two interceptions, an 85.7 pass success (second best out of Senegal’s starters and sixth best out of the 22), three aerials won (joint most in Senegal team). He even had two shots.
It was the epitome of an all-action performance from the Hannover loanee who has just moved to Bundesliga giants Schalke for €7 million, which on this evidence looks an absolute steal.
Robert Lewandowski is one of the most feared strikers on the planet and usually feasts on any defence, formidable or flawed. But Sane ensured he was left to feed on only scraps as the Bayern Munich behemoth was bossed by Senegal’s rising star.