It was a wild day in Group H, as both favourites – Poland and Colombia – lost their respective matches. Senegal defeated the Poles 2-1 and 10-man Colombia succumbed to a 2-1 defeat to Japan in the early game.
Russia, meanwhile, essentially booked its spot in the round of 16 after cruising past Egypt 3-1. Only a dramatic swing in goal difference would prevent the hosts from advancing.
Here are three winners and three losers from Day 6 at the 2018 World Cup.
Over the past two seasons in La Liga, Denis Cheryshev has scored two goals.
At the World Cup, Cheryshev has scored three goals in two games and is tied with Cristiano Ronaldo in the Golden Boot race.
Cheryshev was arguably the most dynamic player on the pitch, too. He had a team-high four shots, three dribbles and even recovered possession six times.
The 27-year-old wasn’t even a regular starter for his country over the past couple of years. He hadn’t even scored an international goal prior to the tournament. Now he’s arguably the breakout star for the Russians.
It was so difficult to pick one standout performer from Senegal. However, the “spine” of the team from the centre-backs to the forwards was incredibly solid across the 90 minutes.
Central defenders Kalidou Koulibaly and Salif Sane were positionally disciplined and constantly frustrated the Polish attack.
Robert Lewandowski and Arkadiusz Milik were consistently dispossessed, as the Senegalese centre-backs combined for 14 ball recoveries. Koulibaly had 12 of those because he was able to read, and cut off, the runs of the Polish forwards.
Elsewhere, Idrissa Gueye and Alfred N’Diaye bossed the midfield. Gueye led his team in passes (52), while N’Diaye provided an outlet for full-back Youssouf Sabaly on the break.
M’Baye Niang scored the eventual winner, but he and Mame Diouf were the unsung heroes for Senegal. Both Niang and Diouf hounded the slower Polish defence all game long. The former pounced on a sluggish Jan Bednarek after Grzegorz Krychowiak’s horrid back-pass. He also won possession in the final third prior to the Senegalese opener.
All in all, it was a complete team performance from Senegal, who has an early advantage in Group H.
Even without James Rodriguez in Colombia’s starting XI, containing Radamel Falcao and the flair of Juan Quintero was going to be a difficult task for Japan.
Not only did Gaku Shibasaki successfully nullify Falcao and Quintero, he also managed to shut down Rodriguez after he came off the bench.
Gaku Shibasaki with a tremendous display vs. #COL. Shut down Quintero, Falcao & (eventually) James:
57 passes (86%)
— Peter Galindo (@GalindoPW) June 19, 2018
Shibasaki constantly tracked the movement of Falcao, Quintero and Rodriguez in the central channels. This, in turn, forced Colombia to attack down the flanks. Los Cafeteros like to counter down the wings, but there was very little activity in the centre from the three Colombians.
From start to finish, Colombia’s centre-back duo of Davinson Sanchez and Oscar Murillo were under duress.
Trouble began after just three minutes. With Colombia deploying their usual high defensive line, Murillo opted to push up on a long ball, which left tons of space for Yuya Osako. Davinson Sanchez failed to clear the ball and that forced Carlos Sanchez to hustle back. Eventually, the latter committed the handball in the box.
Neither player appeared to be in sync with their positioning or know when to retreat or push up.
Sanchez and Murillo have seldom played together for Colombia and that was apparent in the loss to Japan. Coach Jose Pekerman didn’t want to play Yerry Mina as he was afraid of Mina committing an error. Sometimes those gambles don’t pay off.
Arkadiusz Milik, Robert Lewandowski
Adam Nawalka’s decision to start both Arkadiusz Milik and Robert Lewandowski up front backfired. Both players weren’t effective together.
Both are great forwards. But against the stingy defensive duo of Kalidou Koulibaly and Salif Sane, the Polish strikers failed to circulate the ball and find pockets of space.
Lewandowski and Milik also combined for just three shots. The decision to partner them together was bizarre, but they almost looked disinterested.
Russia tried to exploit Egypt’s full-backs from the onset. Even though Russia tended to create most of their attacks in the 5-0 win over Saudi Arabia out wide, Egypt’s coach, Hector Cuper, failed to adapt.
With Mohamed Salah and Trezeguet out wide, Mohamed Shafy and Ahmed Fathy had plenty of ground to cover defensively. This, in turn, allowed Russia’s full-backs to push up more often and combine with Denis Cheryshev and Aleksandr Samedov on the wings.
As seen below, Salah and Trezeguet spent most of the game in the final third. That is why the flanks were wide open for Russia.
In fact, Russia’s second goal was created down the right, via Samedov and Mario Fernandes.
Cuper’s sides are usually defensively disciplined. This match was essentially a must-win for Egypt, so he had to take more risks, but in doing so, the full-backs became overwhelmed.