FIFA World Cup 2018: Group A and B Second Matches

Russian 3-1 Egypt: Right slot man Mohamed Saleh was back for this one for the Pharaohs, a much-needed boost for their attack. Russian coach Stanislav Cherchesov had no reason to keep target man Artem Dzyuba on the bench to start this one, after coming off the bench to score a goal and assist in Russia’s route of the Saudis. Egypt tried to find attacking channels through the middle, right at the Russian strength. Saleh was shadowed by somebody on the right wing all game long, virtually taking him out of the game. Size mattered; the Russians made it work for them in attack on set pieces, and Egypt couldn’t get on the end of anything when they took set plays or tried to make long passes or on 50/50 balls. Russia compressed the pitch, not giving Egypt any space in the center and in the final third, keeping the Pharaohs in front of them. Egypt’s best efforts came when Saleh got on the ball in the box, however few and far between that was. When they tried a slow buildup, Egypt’s attack stalled, but when they countered, they were much more dangerous in the final third. Kind of a bizarre goal, when defender Ahmed Fathi got tangled up with Dzyuba and accidentally put the ball in his own net.

Through two games you notice that once Russia gets on the board, they get confidence and momentum, and their attacking quality increases. This showed only ten minutes later, when a smart buildup on the wings found Denis Cheryshev in the box for an easy on-timer. Egypt broke down from there. We were waiting for Dzyuba to make his presences felt, holding up the ball and fighting in the box. It came for him two minutes after the last goal. I think we all thought Russia would get through this group. I don’t think any of us that it would be this easy or come so quickly…

Uruguay 1-0 Saudi Arabia: Saudi coach Juan Antonio Pizzi changed goalkeepers from the previous 5-0 drubbing to Russia because, yeah, of course, that was the problem [biting sarcasm intended]. Uruguay plays a more reactive game; they need to get into a rhythm and flow, and they tend to stall when that doesn’t happen. The Saudis are good at maintaining possession, making short, crisp passes especially in the center, without really doing anything with it. For more than two World Cup cycles now Uruguay has lacked a midfield creator, a true “10” that would compliment and service the two world-class up-front finishers. As a result, they sit back, pick off passes then take advantage of opposition mistakes, quickly getting the ball on the flanks to get the ball on the feet of either Luis Suarez or Edinson Cavani. No real surprise that it is a set piece that gets Uruguay on the scoreboard, a cross into the box right to the feet of Suarez.

At this juncture it is evident that the Saudis can’t defend anything, either during the run of play or on set pieces. Saudi Arabia are more suited to playing on the break, but in this game they were much more impressive with a slow buildup and smaller, more patient thrusts going forward, finding small pockets of space to put the ball in. This represented their best “defense”. Uruguay have done just enough to win both their games so far.

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