World Cup Daily: Russia defying critics as host with the most

James Sharman joins Alex Seixeiro to recap Tuesday's action at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

After each matchday of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Sportsnet.ca’s World Cup Daily blog will recap the day’s events, and look ahead to the next day’s slate of games.

Here’s what happened on Tuesday, in case you missed it…

THE RESULTS

Colombia 1, Japan 2 in Saransk: Match report || match stats

Poland 1, Senegal 2 in Moscow: Match report || match stats

Russia 3, Egypt 1 in Saint Petersburg: Match report || match stats

MAIN TALKING POINTS

A historic win for Japan
The surprises continue in Russia, as Japan became the first Asian nation to defeat at South American side in 18 World Cup matches involving the two continents (three draws and 14 losses). Japan’s win wasn’t on par with Mexico’s stunning upset of Germany, or Iceland and Switzerland holding Argentina and Brazil to a pair of 1-1 draws. But few would have predicted the Japanese would have been able to beat Colombia, even without 2014 World Cup Golden Boot winner James Rodriguez in the starting 11.

The game took a dramatic twist after only two minutes when Colombia’s Carlos Sanchez was shown a red card for handling the ball inside the penalty area. In the buildup to the penalty decision, Yuya Osako did well to win the ball inside Colombia’s half that eventually led to the penalty decision. Osako also netted the winner in the 73rd minute, nodding home off a corner kick to stun the Colombians who valiantly fought back with 10 men and equalized through Juan Quintero’s amazing free kick just before halftime.

No doubt, Japan was helped by the red card decision. But the Blue Samurai held its own against a dangerous Colombian squad, and wasn’t at all intimidated by the South Americans, their reputation or past results – Colombia thumped Japan 4-1 at the 2014 World Cup. Japan’s win served as yet another subtle reminder that the tournament’s traditional powerhouses will not have an easy time of it.

Poland comes undone vs. Senegal
Senegal marked its return to the World Cup after 16 years with an impressive win over Poland, registering the first victory by an African nation at this year’s tournament. While star striker Sadio Mane had a quiet game, the Senegalese defence stepped up in a big way, keeping a lid on Poland’s main attacking threat, Bayern Munich forward Robert Lewandowski. At the other end of the field, Poland struggled with Senegal’s speed, especially in transition.

As great as Senegal was on the day, they received a helping hand from a Polish side that was at times its worst enemy. Defender Thiago Cionek’s attempted block of Idrissa Gueye’s deflected past handcuffed goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny to give Senegal a 1-0 lead before the break. Then in the second half, Grzegorz Krychowiak played a ridiculous back pass for Szczesny, but Mbaye Niang beat him to the ball and tapped into an empty net to double the Africans’ advantage.

The hosts with the most
Russia kicked off this World Cup as the lowest-ranked of the 32 teams in the tournament – at No. 70, three spots below Group A rivals Saudi Arabia. Many media pundits were already writing them off before a ball was kicked, predicting they would join South Africa (in 2010) as the only host nation of the World Cup to bow out in the first round. Russia, though, has defied the critics thus far, scoring a tournament-leading eight goals and collecting all six points on offer. They haven’t officially clinched a berth in the knockout round, but that will come soon enough, possibly as early as Wednesday.

What’s even more remarkable is that Russia has done this largely without influential midfielder Alan Dzagoev, who picked up an injury in the opening game of the World Cup against Saudi Arabia. The loss of Dzagoev has turned out to be a blessing in disguise. His replacement Denis Cheryshev, a fringe player who only earned a handful of caps prior to this competition, has stepped up in a big way by scoring three goals, including the game-winner against Egypt. This Russian team lacks star power, but it is greater than the sum of its parts, and thus far, that’s what led them to a perfect start at the World Cup.

As for Egypt, a 28-year wait to get back to the World Cup appears over after two games – if Uruguay wins on Wednesday, the South Americans and Russia will advance to the knockout round, while Egypt and Saudi Arabia will be eliminated from contention. That has to be a bitter pill for Mohamed Salah, who was in Egypt’s starting line-up after sitting out the opener through injury. But even Salah, coming off a season in which he was mentioned with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo for the unofficial title of best player in the world, couldn’t lead the Pharaohs to glory. He was too isolated from the rest of the attack, and had just 19 touches on the ball in the first half – less than every other Egyptian outfield player. With Liverpool teammates Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane nowhere to be found, Salah struggled to influence the game, his goal from the penalty spot not being enough to give his country even the smallest amount of hope.

The FIFA World Cup in Russia runs from June 14 to July 15, and Sportsnet.ca will have in-depth daily coverage.

BEST GAME

After a goal-less first half, Russia and Egypt combined to produce four goals through the final 45 minutes. This was a tense and tactical affair that was full of intrigue, with the main question being could Mohamed Salah put Egypt on his back against the hosts. The explosive crowd in Saint Petersburg only added to the occasion.

BEST GOAL

In the 39th minute, Colombia’s Juan Quintero scored a cheeky free kick, firing the ball underneath Japan’s jumping defensive wall and tucking it inside the near post.

BEST SAVE

In the 50th minute, Senegal goalkeeper Khadim Ndiaye dived across his goal-line to punch away Robert Lewandowski’s free kick from 20 yards out.

Prime Time Sports
James Sharman: England, Russia look terrific at World Cup
June 19 2018

BEST MOMENT

Coin flip mayhem in the Colombia-Japan game. Radamel Falcao won the toss and picked an end of the field, as opposed to having the ball at kickoff. The teams line up with Colombia set to get things started, but then Falcao reminds the ref he wanted to choose which end to defend. The Slovenian ref then has the teams switch sides.

THE GAME WITHIN THE GAME

Gaku Shibasaki put in an industrious shift for Japan against Colombia. The central midfielder completed 86 percent of passes, and was a defensive dynamo with five recoveries, four tackles and two interceptions. He played a key role in the Japanese minimizing Colombian attackers Radamel Falcao and Juan Quintero.

BEST TWEET

BEST QUOTE

“If we had actually won the World Cup, we would have had a parade on the main street of Saransk. However, it is just one win, three points. We’ll save our celebrations.” — Japan coach Akira Nishino.

Reach Deep
Germany suddenly most vulnerable of World Cup top contenders
June 19 2018

SIX PACK OF STATS

• Carlos Sanchez’s red card after two minutes and 56 seconds is the second fastest in World Cup history, after Jose Alberto Batista for Uruguay vs. Scotland in 1986 (54 seconds).

• None of Colombia’s 19 games at the World Cup have ended 0-0. Only the United States (33) and Austria (29) have played more World Cup games without a goalless draw.

• Poland has failed to keep a clean sheet in their last nine World Cup games, dating back to its 1-0 win over Portugal in 1986.

• Thiago Cionek is the first Polish player to score an own goal at the World Cup.

• There have been five own-goals at this World Cup. The tournament record is six, set in France in 1998.

• Russia’s eight goals in its first two games ties a World Cup record for a host nation. Italy also scored eight in its first two matches of the 1934 World Cup.

Stats courtesy of Opta

THREE STARS

1) Yuya Osako, Japan: Scored the winning goal, and caused a few problems for Colombia’s defence. Played a key role in the sequence that led to Carlos Sanchez’s red card for Colombia.

2) Denis Cheryshev, Russia: Scored the game winner, and now has three goals, tied with Cristiano Ronaldo for the tournament lead.

3) Salif Sane, Senegal: An immense performance by the defender in marshalling a back line that held its shape and kept Polish striker Robert Lewandowski quiet all game.

 
Can we really see England going deep at the World Cup?
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LOOKING AHEAD TO WEDNESDAY

Group B: Portugal vs. Morocco in Moscow (8:00 a.m. ET) – What will Cristiano Ronaldo do for an encore? After scoring a hat trick in a 3-3 draw against Spain last week, the Real Madrid star will be hoping to guide his country to a first and much-needed win at this tournament.

Group A: Uruguay vs. Saudi Arabia in Rostov (11:00 a.m. ET) – Russia’s win over Egypt on Tuesday means Uruguay can book its spot in the knockout round if it collects three points against the Saudis. A victory by the South Americans would also mean Russia advances, and Egypt and Saudi Arabia would be eliminated.

Group B: Iran vs. Spain in Kazan (2:00 p.m. ET) – The Iranians are the surprise leaders of Group B after beating Morocco last week via an own-goal. But you have to think they’re about to come crashing down to reality, especially against a Spanish side anxious to make amends after letting a win against Portugal slip through its fingers.

ELSEWHERE ON THE WEB

Richard Goldstein of the New York Times penned this obituary piece on Walter Bahr, one of the heroes on the U.S national team that beat England in 1950 in the greatest upset in World Cup history. Bahr, 91, died on Monday.

“Amid the American team’s euphoria after the victory over England, Bahr felt compassion for the losers, and through the years he never sought to belittle that English team. “I was thinking going to the bus that I didn’t know whether to feel happy for us or feel sad for those poor English guys,” he said in an interview for Major League Soccer’s website in 2014. “How are they going to explain a defeat to a 500-to-1 underdog?”

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