THE KNOCKOUT STAGE CALLS FOR RUSSIA

It’s on and you had better believe it – Russia could basically secure qualification to the knockout phase on the 19th June. A win over Egypt – barring an awful Saudi Arabian side beating group favourites Uruguay the next day – will mean they will qualify for the knockout phase. That more than means a successful World Cup for the hosts, who came into the tournament as the lowest ranked team and their fans were fearing the worst, but a 5-0 drubbing of Saudi Arabia in their opening match has generated a real feel good factor.

ITS ALL ABOUT MO

Whilst they were unfortunate to lose late on against Uruguay, for me Egypt didn’t do enough to win a game against a very off colour Uruguay. No doubt the absence of key man Mo Salah is a huge blow to the team as having him on the pitch when they had a couple of breakaways in the second half could have meant a whole different result. They now find themselves in what could be a last chance saloon. My question would be, is the Liverpool starlet even fit? Most definitely not 100%, but is he just there for marketing purposes, ie in the country just to promote the tournament and keep fans happy. Manager Hector Cuper was saying that Salah was fully fit the day before the clash against the South Americans, then doesn’t play him or even bring him off the bench, mind games, though I was not fooled. Yes they need a man of his stature back for this huge match, but if he is not going to be able to perform due to not having recovered from his shoulder injury then playing with 10.5 men, the team is going to be found out in my opinion. This situation smacks of Ronaldo having to play in the 1998 World Cup Final when it was clear to everybody he was not up to it.

DEJA VU

Suppose the one warning Russia do have is that they have been here before in a knockout competition on home soil. In last years Confederations Cup they also won their first game against poor opposition in New Zealand, but when they came up against the stronger opposition in their group (Portugal and Mexico), they fluffed their lines losing both matches, not the greatest omen a year out. As we stand they now have a fantastic opportunity to bury that memory at exactly the right time on their own patch. What an opportunity. And judging by my prediction below I feel it will be a tight, nervy but in the end a special night at the Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg on the 19th June.

Predictions for Tuesday 19th June

Colombia 3 Japan 0

Poland 1 Senegal 1

Russia 1 Egypt 0

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