By JENNA FRYER
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
MOSCOW -- With or without Mohamed Salah in the lineup, Egypt should give Russia an indication if it has any shot at making a mark in this year's World Cup.
Russia dismissed Saudi Arabia 5-0 in the opening game of the tournament, but the lopsided victory failed to show if the team is actually good enough to succeed in international competition. The Saudi team didn't put up much of a fight, so any questions about Russia's readiness were left unanswered.
Either way, the Russian team understands that one victory from its next two Group A matches can put the team in the knockout round. A win over Egypt in St. Petersburg on Tuesday, coupled with an Uruguay victory over Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, would be enough for Russia to advance.
Egypt knows it is in a mustwin situation following its 1-0 loss to Uruguay. Salah, nursing a shoulder injury, did not play in the opening match. The decision not to use him could have centred on protecting him from the physical Uruguayans, but with the tournament on the line, the Liverpool striker will almost certainly play.
Salah is Egypt's star player with 33 of the team's 57 goals. He scored 44 goals in 51 games for Liverpool.
"Of course he stands out, but obviously we're not up against a single player," Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov said. "I believe in my players. We are ready to do this and we will do this."
Salah hasn't played a game since May 26 and will have fresh legs if he gets on the field against Russia.
The match is at 9 p.m. (2 p.m.
EDT; 1800 GMT) at St. Petersburg Stadium.
A look at Tuesday's other matches, both Group H openers: COLOMBIA VS. JAPAN 3 p.m. (8 a.m. ET) Radamel Falcao is finally healthy enough to play in his first World Cup and help Colombia show that its run four years ago in Brazil was no fluke. He didn't play in 2014, when Colombia advanced to the quarter-final.
The game is a rematch of Colombia's 4-1 victory over Japan in the final game of group play in the last World Cup and both rosters contain some of those same players.
James Rodriguez, the top scorer of the 2014 World Cup with six in five matches, is expected to play for Colombia despite a calf injury that has limited his action. The team has not revealed if Rodriguez, who scored against Japan in Brazil, will start the game in Saransk.
Japan's first World Cup appearance was in 1998 and it has not missed the tournament since, so many of its current players are on the international stage for a third consecutive time.
Japan comes into the tournament with a new coach, Akira Nishino, who is making his World Cup debut. The Japanese federation was not satisfied with former coach Vahid Halilhodzic and many believe the late change will hurt Japan's chances of doing much in this year's tournament.
POLAND VS. SENEGAL 6 p.m. (11 a.m. ET) The final opening match of the tournament features Senegal, which in its debut World Cup in 2002 defeated defending champion France in the opener and went on to reach the quarter-final.
It was a historic run for the country - the day of the victory over France was declared a national holiday - and Aliou Cisse, captain of that team, is now the coach.
Senegal is led by Sadio Mané, who scored 20 goals this season for Liverpool and had the fastest hat trick in Premier League history when he got three goals in a 176-second span for Southampton in 2015.
But Senegal has not been on this stage since its 2002 appearance.
Poland is coached by Adam Nawalka, a member of the country's 1978 World Cup team. He has improved the squad from 76th in the FIFA rankings in 2013 to eighth.
The team is led by captain Robert Lewandowski, who led European qualifying with 16 goals - one more than Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo - and scored five goals in a nine-minute span for Bayern Munich in February.
The match is at Spartak Stadium in Moscow.
Egypt forward Mohamed Salah attends a training session on Monday in St. Petersburg, Russia. Salah is Egypt's star player, with 33 of the team's 57 goals, but hasn't played a game since May 26.
CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/GETTY IMAGES