SCORE with theSun June 21, 2018

Uruguay Suar -inghigh

Lowstandards It was always suspected that Group A would be the lowest quality group at this World Cup. It contains two of the lowest ranked sides in the tournament – Russia and Saudi Arabia – and lacks any of the heavyweight contenders. The first half of this match might just have proved the point and it would not be a surprise to see every Group A side extinguished before the quarterfi- nals.  Salahback, butnot really Mohamed Salah made a tentative start in his first football match since the Champions League final. He plugged away gamely but seemed timid in attacking positions. We will never knowwhat might have been had he never suffered that injury, but there is the lingering sense that Egypt played this World Cup without their best player. Owngoals lead theway At the top of the goalscoring charts in Russia is Cristiano Ronaldo and nowDenis Cheryshev, but even the Portuguese star is currently being outshined by the tally of own goals. There have been five inadvertently turned past their own goalkeeper already, a number fast closing in on the all-time record of six own goals. Dzyuba the target ArtemDzyuba started on the bench in Russia’s first match, coming on to score a header with virtually his first touch against Saudi Arabia. Against Egypt he was given the chance to start and he again showed his qualities, providing a physical threat and getting on the scoresheet again. The signs are promising All great World Cups feature fantastic matches, genuine shocks and a host nation who make a deep run in the tournament. The first round of games and Russia’s opening double delivered all of those factors. Longmay it continue.  PepesaysPortugal ‘privileged’ tohaveCR7 Portugal defender Pepe said it was a “privilege” for the country to have a player like Cristiano Ronaldo after the Real Madrid star’s dazzlingdisplay against Spain at theWorldCup. “The most important thing for our team is for CristianoRonaldo tobe well,” Pepe told report- ers at the Luzhniki Stadium yesterday. “He’s very happy to be here with us and every match it’s a privilege for us Portuguese to have a player such as him... he had a fantastic match (against Spain) and it was very important the fact that he’s so humble on the pitch andwork- ing to help the team. We are very happy with him and his performance and the performance of all the other players. We work with a single goal which is to honour our country and jer- sey.” Cherchesovgets itright Russia’s decision to target Egypt’s weakness in the air was the key to the 3-1 victory yester- day that left the hosts on the brink of qualifica- tion for the World Cup knockout stages, their coach Stanislav Cherchesov said. Cherchesov shuffled his options in attack, bringing towering centre forward ArtemDzyuba into the starting lineup in place of Fyodor Smolov, who started the 5-0 win over Saudi Arabia in the tourna- ment’s opening game in Group A. “It is some- times strange to see why you need big attack- ers toplay, but we have studiedmany of Egypt’s games,” Cherchesov told reporters. “We knew their difficult moments, we know their weak- nesses.” we learned fromthe Russiavs Egyptmatch

turned back, looked inside or, on more than one occasion, gave it away. “Hewasn’tinallthepreparation withus and that cost hima littlebit of his physical ability,” Cuper said. He had little option but to play him, of course, given a second consecutive match missed would likelymean Salah being fitter only for a dead rubber against Saudi Arabia. Realistically, Egypt had to win and inplayingSalah, Cuperplayed his trump card. There was a psychological boost tobegained too, asEgyptian fans, draped in flags and coated in face paint, bounced and cheered whenever Salah’s face appeared on the big screen. Russian supporters knew his importance. One even arrived wearing a Real Madrid shirt, with Ramos’ name printed on the back. Andso toodid34-year-old left- back Yuri Zhirkov. When cross- field balls floated towards Salah, Zhirkovheaded themclear.When Salah collected the ball deeper in midfield, Zhirkov clattered his second touch. When Salah pulled free at the back post, Zhirkov made the clearance,scramblingtheballover his own bar. “Wehaveamissionandwewill accomplish themission,” Russia’s coach Stanislav Cherchesov had vowed before thematch. Cherchesovadded thatEgypt’s greaterneedforvictorypiledmore Suarezmarks 100th capwith goal to send Uruguay through to last 16 L uisSuarez markedhis 100th international cap by sending Uruguay into the last 16 of the World Cup as the strikerbenefitedfromsomepoor goalkeeping to eliminate Saudi Arabiawith a 1-0win yesterday. Suarez tapped in midway throughthefirsthalfafterkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais failed to grab the ball on a corner. The goal put Uruguay second in Group A with a maximum six points behindhosts Russia. Saudi Arabia, who have not won a World Cup game since their debut in 1994, have zero points, just like Egypt, who lost 3-1 toRussia onTuesday. Suarez’s goal was by no means pretty, but it did the trick. “All we wanted to do was to win and qualify for the next round. Today was another demonstration that it is so difficulttowinagameinaWorld Cup,” said Suarez. Saudi Arabia, who suffered a minor scare when an engine on their plane caught fire before landing on Rostov-on-Don on Monday, insteadhavenot found the back of the net in their last fourWorldCup outings. Aftera5-0drubbingbyRussia in the tournament’s opening game, they were more playful but ultimately comparatively toothless at the Rostov Arena

before 42,678 fans.

Saudi Arabia’s goalkeeper

pressureonRussia’sopponents as thegameworeon, giving thehosts the advantage. “The longer we played today the more the opponents needed the result,” he added. “Even more so once we managedtoscoreatthestartofthe secondhalfandtheybecamemore nervous. “Weuseditandwemanagedto succeed,we scoreda couplemore after that. “It is a game. Things change. And sometimes there will be a split second more in our favour andwewill be able to use it.” Salah showed glimpses but his touchwasnever crisp, his thought process indecisive. At the end of the first half, he finallyhadZhirkov squaredupon the edge of the area but his footworkwasmuddledanda shot on the turnwhistledpast the post. Perhapsthesinglemomentdid, in the end, arrive in the 73rd minute. Egypt poured into thebox andasSalahlookedtorunbeyond, Zhirkov tuggedhimback. After consulting his video assistant, refereeEnriqueCaceres upgraded the freekick into a penalty and Salah made no mistake. Only by then, Russia were home and dry, an own-goal from Ahmed Fathi and strikes from Denis Cheryshev and Artem Dzyuba putting the hosts on the brink of the last 16. Salah had his goal but it was nothing more than a footnote. – AFP With temperatures reaching 33°C,two-timeworldchampions Uruguay and Saudi Arabia got off to a cautious start. Uruguay’s Edinson Cavani wasted numerous chances, including one in the 14thminute when he skied a half volley over the bar. The Russian fans were the loudest, chanting “Russia, Russia” as the rest of the arena appeared to doze off. The stadiumburst into life in the 23rdminute however, when an unmarked Suarez coolly tapped into an empty net froma corner kick after keeper Al- Owais came out but misjudged his jump and couldn’t reach the ball. Suarez has now scored in three consecutiveWorldCups. The Saudis continued to move the ball around and also threatened Uruguay defence, but thereweren’t any finishing. They suffered a setback shortly before the interval as veteran Taisir Al-Jassim was replaced by Housain Al- Mogahwiwithanapparentthigh injury. The second half was even scrappier by Uruguay, with Saudi Arabia running riot. However, Uruguay were happy with a narrowadvantage. They did come close to doubling the tally in the closing stages, however, when Lucas Torreira’s wild shot took a deflection off of Cavani and almost beat Al-Owais. – Reuters

MohammedAl-Owais saves the ball in front of Uruguay’s Edinson Cavani (left) during their Russia 2018World CupGroupAmatch at the Rostov Arena

in Rostov-On-Don yesterday. – AFPPIX

Salah-less Egypt crushed inRussia

Three weeks and threedays after Sergio Ramos twisted and slammed Egypt’s bestWorld Cup hope into the grass, Mohamed Salah returned. Hewonapenalty,andscoredit, ripping the ball with his left foot into the top corner. But by then, Russia were alreadythreeupandthisgamewas as good as gone. “If hewas not injured, it is very difficult toknowwhatwouldhave

happened,” Egypt coach Hector Cuper said. “But we know the quality he has.” On show yesterday in St Petersburg was not the Salah that had tormented Roma and ManchesterCity,orscored32goals in the Premier League and 10 to powerLiverpooltotheChampions League final. Thiswas Salahmaking thebest ofthings,hopingtodeliverasingle, match-winningmoment even if he knewacompleteperformancewas never on the cards. The way he shuffled off at the end, asRussia’s substitutes rushed on to celebrate a 3-1 victory in GroupA, suggested even he knew itwas a long shot. Certainly, he was not 100% fit, that much had been clear on MondaywhenSalahjoggedaround theSaintPetersburgStadiumpitch, testing out his left shoulder with a series of tentative barges but opting out when his teammates swung their arms in circles. I t wa s

clear too in the first 30 minutes, when the 26-year- o l d

barely touched the ball, a n d w h e n he did,

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