Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov says the World Cup hosts have figured out a way to reign in Egypt’s striker Mohamed Salah on Tuesday in Saint Petersburg.
The 26-year-old has scored 44 goals in a sensational first season for Liverpool and is keen to make his debut after missing the Pharaohs’ 1-0 opening game loss to Uruguay with a shoulder injury.
Salah’s name has been creeping into conversations often since Russia’s 5-0 thumping of Saudi Arabia in Thursday’s tournament curtain-raiser.
But Cherchesov said he was not particularly concerned.
“We know how to play against him,” the Russia coach said after the team’s morning training session.
“We are ready to stop Salah and we will.”
The bold promise highlights a new swagger that had been missing from the host nation’s team for much of the past year.
Russia’s convincing win over the Saudis was preceded by a seven-match winless streak and a spate of injuries that wiped out almost the entire defensive line.
But the men in red are now on the cusp of making their first knockout stage of a World Cup in post-Soviet history.
The achievement would be a huge relief for both players and Russians who worried about being humiliated on the world’s biggest sporting stage.
One poll said Thursday’s win has seen the number of Russians who say they plan to follow the football rise from 52 percent to 64 percent.
Russia’s veteran goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev said he would rather focus on winning than any particular opposing player.
“Would I prefer to see Salah play or not? I do not even know how to respond,” said Akinfeev. “I would prefer to see my team win.”