Russia and Egypt could not arrive in Saint Petersburg with more disparate emotions following their opening games at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia. The hosts dealt with the pressure of the curtain-raiser in staggering style beating Saudi Arabia 5-0 while Egypt saw their long-awaited return to the Mundial start off with last-gasp, gut-wrenching 1-0 defeat to Uruguay.
Even the most passionate of Russia fans would have scoffed at serious predictions of a 5-0 win over Saudi Arabia, but that victory, punctuated by a couple of fine Denis Cheryshev goals, has transformed expectations. Three points could even be enough to seal a Round of 16 spot.
Egypt, on the other hand, has no time to waste. Thankfully for them, Mohamed Salah looks set to return from injury. As well as the obvious attacking threat he will provide, having been a dominating presence in England this season, the return of his talismanic stature with the Pharaohs will no doubt lift their spirits after the late goal conceded against Uruguay.
Russia is over the moon after the magnificent and quite unexpected goal shower in the opening game. But the players have not rested on their laurels. Everyone in the Russian camp has put the result against Saudi Arabia behind them and Egypt is a totally different story.
With or without Mohamed Salah on the pitch, the hosts are determined to fight hard and get another victory to put at least one foot in the next round, if not two.
The defeat of the Pharaohs by Uruguay on the other hand has sort of imposed a clear state of mind on the Egyptian team: beating Russia is the only option.
As Hector Cuper prepares for the match with Salah’s expected return alongside some brilliant performances in their final training session before leaving for Saint Petersburg, he certainly will have a selection headache on his hands. After the hosts’ opening result, and with home support, the pressure will be on the Pharaohs, but they can overcome it.