S6 SCORE with theSun June 19, 2018

Salah lift for Egypt R ussia got their World Cup cam- paign off to a dreamstart with a 5-0 thumping of Saudi Arabia but face an entirely different beast in the backYuri Zhirkov, 34, in the firstmatch, and if theRussia coach stickswith the sameduo, Egypt and Salah could capitalise. The 26-year-old’s birthday was ruined by the Uruguay defeat and he spent the match on the bench as Cuper elected not to risk his star man, who is making his return froma shoulder injury. While Zhirkov still has plenty of pace, Russia will be hard pressed to stop striker formof Egypt, who should be revitalised by the return of their talismanic striker Mohamed Salah. The hosts face the north Africans

DefeatbringsCostaRica backdowntoearth After reaching lofty heights in the 2014 World Cup, Costa Rica weredumpedback down to earth by a tough Serbia in the 2018 edition on Sunday, their ageing squad unable to repeat their heroics of Brazil in Russia. The Ticos started brightly enough in the Group E openingmatch in Samara. But they squandered early chances and Serbia steadily began to impose themselves on thegame. They now face Brazil in St. Petersburg on June 22 and so may already have checked in online for their flight home by the time they take on a strong Switzerland side in their final groupmatch. “Those who’ve been toWorldCups before know that first matches are complicated,” a clearly disappointed coach Oscar Ramirez said. “In the first 20-25 minutes, we were very close to achieving some- thing. We tried to pressure them. I think it was a tight match. We should have capitalised on our opportunities the same way they did. I think we still believe in our opportunities, we know it will be hard because we have to face Brazil and Switzerland. It would have been good to have a buffer. We are in the situation we are, we will do the best we can,” said Ramirez, who as player appeared in all Costa Rica’s matches in the 1990 World Cup campaign. Maybe we have lost a certain margin for qualifying. It’s going to be difficult, but our intention remains the same. I told the lads in the locker room ‘this isn’t over’.” Novak Djokovic (caricature) insists he would happily miss a first appearance for Serbia in the World Cup final if it means he is back in theWimbledon title match. Djokovic is an avid fan of the Serbian national team, who kicked off their World Cup campaign with a 1-0 win over Costa Rica in Russia on Sunday. Celebrating wildly after his friend Aleksandar Kolarov bagged Serbia’s winner with a superb freekick, Djokovic watched the match from a raucous players’ lounge at Queen’s Club in west London, where he is preparing for the start of the Wimbledon warm-up event next week. But the 31-year-old was surprised when he was told he would likely miss out on watch- ing Serbia if they make a surprise appearance in the World Cup final. That is because the showpiece in Moscow is scheduled to kick off just hours after the Wimbledon men’s final begins at the All England Club on July 15. “Re- ally? I didnt know that.Wow,” he told reporters. “From your mouth to gods ears as they say, hopefully that can happen. I’ve been fortunate to win Wimbledon three times and play well there. If that happens I would obviously be very happy to miss the World Cup final! This was Wimbledonglory before WCfinalforJoker

he will find it hard to cope with the lightning-quick Salah, who cut a swathe of destruction through Europeandefences for Liverpool last season while coming in from the right wing on to his lethal left foot. Ignashevich’s experience is an asset but his age counts against him and any attempt to double up on Sa l ah wi l l f ree up Mahmoud Hassan, better knownbyhis nickname “Trezeguet”, on the opposite flank. The 23-year-old proved to be a handful against Uruguay and Russia’s Brazil-born rightbackMario Fernandeswill need all his wits about him to keep Trezeguet quiet. While Egypt are strengthened immeasurably by Salah’s return, Russiawill be weakened by the absence of creative midfielder Alan Dzagoev, who was injured during their openingmatch.

inSt Petersburg todayanddefeat wouldalmostcertainlycondemn Egypt to an early exit. Russia top Group A on goal difference ahead of favourites Uruguay, whoneeded a last-gasp goal to scrape past a dogged Egypt 1-0 in their first game of the tournament. Egyp t , coa ched by Argentine Hector Cuper, are

still targeting a second-placed finish in the group, but must beat Russia to have any hope of achieving that goal. Cuper’s team showed against Uruguay they will not defend as generously as the hapless Saudis, andSalah, who shouldmake his first start, will relish the chance to torment Russia’s aging defence. Coach Stanislav Cherchesov started centreback Sergei Ignashevich, 38, and full

Dzagoev was replaced by Denis Cheryshev, who earnedhimself instant cult status with a well-taken brace. After entering the tournament ranked a lowly 70th in the world, expectations around Russia were subdued, with many fans believing the team might prove an embarrassment. The opening win has put those fears to rest, but the confidence now flowing through the Russian ranks could be their undoing. Egypt are set up to play on the counter- attack, with Cuper asking his midfielders anddefenders to stick close together in two rigid banks of four and restrict the spaces that opponents seek to exploit. The game plan is simple – get the ball intoSalah’s feet quickly and let himdowhat he does best. If he is match fit, Russia will be hard pressed to stop him helping Egypt to their first victory at aWorld Cup. – Reuters

Egyptian fans hold an image of Mohamed Salah in a stadium in Cairo. – afppix

Russia seePharaohs asbiggest threat

One of the architects of Russia’sWorldCup bid thinks the host nation’s upcoming clash against Mohamed Salah’s Egypt will be their most important of the group stage. Russia are coming off a rousing 5-0 opening match win over Saudi Arabia and are in prime position to qualify for the last 16of aWorldCup for the first time since the Soviet Union’s collapse. Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko told reporters after attending yesterday’s training sessions that players know the importance of today’s showdown with the Pharaohs in Saint Petersburg. “The second game will be our most important one in the group stage,” said Mutko. “In the first match, everyone saw how much the players cared,” he said. “Ifwe play up toour level, I don’t see any problems.” Mutko is the most powerful official in Russian football andacloseallyof President Vladimir Putin. He oversawa budget ofmore thanUS$13 billion (RM52b) while spearheading preparations for Russia’s firstWorldCup at home. But he was forced to quit as football federation president inDecember because of his alleged role in running a doping

programme that got Russia banned from last winter’s Olympic Games. Mutko still serves on the federation’s executive committee but was also stripped of his sports brief in a government reshuffle last month. Russia conclude the group phase against two-time world champions Uruguay on June 25. Two victories from their first two matches would guarantee Russia’s qualification for the knockout stage and a possible matchup against either Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal or high-octane Spain. A draw against Egypt would put extra pressure on Russia against Uruguay that theywould rather avoid. Russian players concede that Salah’s fitness will be a vital factor in today’s match. ForwardAlexeiMiranchukadmitted that Egypt were two different teams with and without their talisman, who scored 44 goals in an extraordinary first season with Liverpool. “Egypt’s game with Salah is different from the one they play without him,” the reserve striker said. “He is a good playerwho determines his team’s game.Wewill seewhat he is capable of showing against us.” – AFP

best way to start campaign. Everybody is watching in the players lounge. I’m friends with Kolarov who scored an amazing goal today, and (Ne- manja) Matic, these guys,” he said. “It’s a different sport, but we share a lot of things in common as athletes. We support each other, but can also share insights into how we train.”

Denis Cheryshev... earned instant cult status with a well-taken brace against Saudi Arabia in Russia’s opening

match last Thursday. – afppix

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