Russia is all but confirmed as the first team to progress to the Round of 16 following a convincing win over Egypt on Tuesday.
The home side, criticized as the worst host nation entrant in the history of the World Cup, has silenced the naysayers to score their second win in as many matches.
The 3-1 result against Egypt solidifies Russia’s position at the top of Group A with six points and a goal difference of +7: the best opening for any host nation in the history of the competition.
The Russians performed well in Saint Petersburg but were undoubtedly lucky with their first strike. A goalless first half gave way to an unlikely own-goal against Egyptian Ahmed Fathy in the 47th minute. From there, the Russian piled on two more quick scores to really pressure their opponents.
The Egyptians, nicknamed The Pharaohs, needed to win after a loss in their first match against Uruguay. Unfortunately superstar striker Mo Salah continued to struggle with injury and did not have the impact they required. The Liverpool favourite did earn and convert a penalty late in the match, but it wasn’t enough.
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Perhaps the most surprising element of Russia’s performance thus far has been their amount of goals. Five in the first game and three in the second mean Russia has scored the most goals of any team in the competition.
Furthermore, Denis Cheryshev is top contender for the Golden Boot award after slotting another goal in today’s match. His total stands at three goals for the competition, tied at the top with Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
While Russia’s inclusion in the Round of 16 is not mathematically confirmed, the remaining matches in Group A would need to be high-scoring upsets to dethrone the home team from progressing into the next round.
Really, who could have seen this coming? Well, actually, Nate Silver’s team did predict before the competition kick-off that Russia had been drawn in the easiest grouping of modern history. Nonetheless, the home team has undoubtedly played well.
Russia is now poised to meet Uruguay in their final match of the group stages on Tuesday.