GROUP A returns on Tuesday night as hosts Russia face Egypt in Saint Petersburg. Ben Levene (@BenLevene96) shares his best bets.
Russia v Egypt | Tuesday 19th June 2018, 19:00 | BBC
Hosts Russia opened with a 5-0 thrashing of Saudi Arabia and how much we can read into that game remains to be seen. Saudi Arabia were well below par; unlike the BBC and ITV, we mustn’t get too carried away. Nonetheless, Stanislav Cherchesov’s charges find themselves in a fantastic position.
We cannot underestimate the impact of momentum, and the trends are certainly in their favour. Since the format change in 1998, 84% of teams to win their opener have found themselves in the Last 16. Goal difference means a draw versus Egypt on Tuesday could be enough.
The early injury to key midfielder Alan Dzagoev on Thursday gave opportunity to former Real Madrid forward Denis Cheryshev, who produced a well-taken brace. The wide-man will likely keep his place.
The likes of 34-year-old Yuri Zhirkov and 38-year-old Sergei Iganshevich played a full 90 minutes in the opener, so the quick turnover of games could be a worry for the ageing squad.
Zhirkov, best known for his time at Chelsea, could be tasked with handling Egypt’s Mohamed Salah, who is no doubt the Pharaohs best chance of qualification.
Since 1998, just 12% of sides who have lost their World Cup opener have subsequently advanced from the group-stages. But there were positives for Egypt in Friday’s 1-0 defeat to Uruguay.
While there was only ever going to one winner, Hector Cuper’s unit performed commendably. The Pharaohs’ solid core played up to expectation. It’ll take some quality in the final-third to carve open Egypt.
With Salah sacrificed in anticipation of Tuesday, the significance of this fixture is fairly clear.
Side with Salah’s boys
Egypt have to travel over four times the distance of their opponents, but that’s not enough to put me off the 191/100 (Marathon) available on the Pharaohs in the Draw No Bet market. There is less between the sides than the prices suggest.
Egypt found themselves in some decent positions against La Celeste, and against a team that does not contain Jose Gimenez and Diego Godin at the heart of defence, they could be better equipped to turn those positions into goalscoring opportunities. Especially with Salah around.
Egypt are in a different league both physically and technically to Saudi Arabia, who showed very little against Russia baring a bit of energy in the first five minutes.
While they rode their luck at times, the Pharaohs remained disciplined and organised against Uruguay. In 11 matches over the last 12 months, just Portugal and Belgium have netted more than once against Egypt.
An Egypt clean sheet is available at a generous 67/25 (Marathon) and is worth a dart. The implied 28% chance is low.