Denis Cheryshev for the Golden Boot? He’s scored more goals than Lionel Messi, Neymar and Robert Lewandowski combined, and moved level with Cristiano Ronaldo, after proving the Hero of the Day for Russia against Egypt.
Hot on the heels of that brace off the bench against Saudi Arabia, the Villarreal winger added a third strike to his World Cup scrapbook. In fact he has now scored more goals at the tournament than in his last two La Liga seasons.
Surely he will have at least two more chances, including a Round of 16 clash, to engage in an unlikely duel with Ronaldo.
On from the start in light of Alan Dzagoev’s hamstring injury, Cheryshev tormented Egypt captain Ahmed Fathi for prolonged periods down Egypt’s right-hand side.
The 27-year-old also gleefully moved into central pockets of space left by a lacklustre Mohamed Elneny, dove-tailing particularly well with Artem Dzyuba – himself getting a start thanks to some opening-day heroics.
Cheryshev’s whipped in crosses were beginning to wear Egypt down and he doubled Russia’s lead after losing Elneny in the penalty area and slamming home full-back Mario Fernandes’ cross.
DECISION-MAKING – Cheryshev is a jet-heeled winger and has the ability to blast past his full-back. The veteran Fathi, fully aware of this, stood off him at times to counter this, but Russia’s newest star placed trust in his superb crossing ability over the prospect of running down blind alleys.
He also displayed remarkable intelligence to drift inside, knowing full well Egypt were losing the battle in the middle, and it was from there that he got his just rewards with the goal.
GOAL RUSH – It’s hard to pick at any aspect of Cheryshev’s performance – he was even good in defence too, cutting off the supply line to Salah with two interceptions and two tackles on the night.
If we are being hyper-critical, the No11 could have added one or two more goals to his already outstanding tally, taking a team-high four shots but getting just the one – his second-half strike – on target.
Cheryshev did go closest in an otherwise fairly quiet first half from 20 yards, and no wonder he’s looking more. If you had his left foot, you’d trust it whole-heartedly as well.
Russia needed heroes in a squad which was seemingly devoid of them. Cheryshev has answered his nation’s call and then some.
He had not even played for his country since 2015 prior to this year but Russia have unearthed, or rediscovered, a gem buried in Spain for several years.
Powerful, quick, a fine crosser of the ball and a new-found eye for goal. Swap his passport and he’d get into virtually every starting side at the World Cup.
RATING – 8/10
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