World Cup diary 2018 – Friday 15 June
Well it couldn’t have gone much better for the hosts on Opening night with a 5-0 beating of Saudi Arabia. Substitute Cheryshev bagged a brace (43’ and 91’) along with goals from Gazinskiy (12′), (71′) and Golovin (94’) as Russia cruised to three points. There will be sterner tests ahead for Russia than Saudi Arabia who proved to be early contenders of the ‘give the ball away’ competition and defensively looked very, very poor.
Away from the action on the pitch, amongst the most annoying aspects of the game was the horrendous American announcer in the stadium and the banal commentary of ITV’s Glenn Hoddle.
After yesterday’s game, the other two teams in Group A, Egypt and Uruguay, play in the first of three games today starting at the Ekaterinburg Arena in Yekaterinburg, the furthest east of the Finals venues and actually situatetd in the Asian sector of Russia. The stadium has caused quite a stir, as the seats in the two temporary stands behind each goal are located outside the main bowl of the stadium. Having looked at images of it, there is no way I’d feel comfortable sat in what looks like a precarious giant scaffold.
The two teams have met previously in a Friendly International in August 2006 at the Alexandria Stadium, with Uruguay winning 2-0 with a goal from centre-back Diego Godin and an own-goal from Abdelzaher El Saqqa. The expectation is that Uruguay will have too much for Egypt, but the biggest talking point could be around two players who have Liverpool in common – current Kop King Mo Salah, who faces a battle to be fit and ex-Red hero, dentists best-friend and all-round pantomime villain, Luis Suarez. Besides Salah the Egyptians boast a number of players familiar to an English audience with Ali Gabr and Ahmed Hegazi (both WBA), Ahmed Elmohamady (Aston Villa), Sam Morsy (Wigan Athletic), Ramadan Sobhi (Huddersfield Town) and Mohamed Elneny (Arsenal) in their Finals squad. Uruguay to nick the points in a close game.
The second and third games of Friday see Group B get underway with Morocco against Iran at the St Petersburg Stadium followed by the European giants of Spain and Portugal as the Fisht Stadium. Morocco and Iran met in the LG Cup in 2002 in a game which ended 1-1 with Iran winning 4-3 on penalties in Tabriz. In the Iranian squad is a player with recent game-time in England, that being their captain Ashkan Dejagah who played for Fulham in the Premier League and last season spent time on loan at Nottingham Forest. Morocco have their own English connection with Romain Saiss, who was part of the Wolves team that took the SkyBet Championship title in 2017/18. Could be the tournament’s first draw.
Friday finishes with the Iberian clash of Spain and Portugal. These European heavyweights last met in a World Cup in 2010 when they played each other in the last sixteen. Spain made it to the Quarter-Finals 1-0 courtesy of a David Villa goal on sixty-three minutes with Rui Costa sent-off for Portugal. The Spanish made the headlines before a ball had even been kicked in this World Cup with the removal of their manager and the test will be to see if this has any impact on this talented squad. Star-studded line-ups on both sides, but could end in the second draw of the day.