ST PETERSBURG (Reuters) - Russia’s decision to target Egypt’s weakness in the air was the key to the 3-1 victory on Tuesday that left the hosts on the brink of qualification for the World Cup knockout stages, their coach Stanislav Cherchesov said.
Cherchesov shuffled his options in attack, bringing towering center forward Artem Dzyuba into the starting lineup in place of Fyodor Smolov, who started the 5-0 win over Saudi Arabia in the tournament’s opening game in Group A.
“It is sometimes strange to see why you need big attackers to play, but we have studied many of Egypt’s games,” Cherchesov told reporters. “We knew their difficult moments, we know their weaknesses.”
Smolov did not score in the first match, while Dzyuba found the net against the Saudis a minute after coming on in the second half, but Cherchesov indicated the decision to use him against Egypt was a question of tactics, not form.
“Independent of whether Smolov had scored in the first game I think we would have preferred Dzyuba,” the coach added. “He’s in good shape and tactically speaking in this game he was better fitted for the purpose and it was fulfilled.”
Dzyuba played his part to perfection, controlling a long ball on his chest before brushing off a defender to fire home Russia’s third goal and caused problems for the Egypt defense all night.
He played a part in the first goal too, pressuring Egypt captain Ahmed Fathi, who put the ball into his own net.
All three goals came in a devastating 15 minute spell in the second half after the teams were deadlocked 0-0 at the break.
Cherchesov said Egypt’s greater need for victory piled more pressure on Russia’s opponents as the game wore on, giving the hosts the advantage.
“The longer we played today the more the opponents needed the result,” he added. “Even more so once we managed to score at the start of the second half and they became more nervous.
“We used it and we managed to succeed, we scored a couple more after that.
“It is a game. Things change. And sometimes there will be a split second more in our favor and we will be able to use it. Every team is ready to focus for 45 minutes so the longer you play the more difficult it gets.”
Victory moves Russia on to six points at the top of Group A, three ahead of Uruguay, who play Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.
Reporting by Simon Jennings; Editing by Ken Ferris