ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — Russia scored three goals in a 15-minute span early in the second half to set up a 3-1 win over Egypt on Tuesday, moving the host nation to the brink of the World Cup's knockout stage.
Mohamed Salah won and converted a penalty for a consolation goal on his return from injury but Egypt's first World Cup in 28 years could be over in barely five days following a second straight loss.
Ahmed Fathi poked the ball into his own net — the fifth own-goal of the tournament — to put Russia ahead in the 47th minute. Then Denis Cheryshev and Artyom Dzyuba scored in quick succession to leave Russia on course for a victory that followed up a 5-0 opening-night win over Saudi Arabia.
It was Cheryshev's third goal of the World Cup, putting him tied with Cristiano Ronaldo at the top of the scoring chart.
Russia's place in the round of 16 will be assured if Uruguay wins or draws against the Saudis on Wednesday. Those two scenarios would also eliminate Egypt, which started with a 1-0 loss to Uruguay.
The hopes of 100 million Egyptians were raised when Salah was selected in the starting lineup, the Liverpool forward making his comeback after 3 1/2 weeks out with damaged ligaments in his left shoulder after a tangle with Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos in the Champions League final.
Salah trotted out for his pre-match warmup to roars from Egypt fans, who at times appeared to outnumber their Russian counterparts. They shouted every time Salah's face flashed up on the big screen and when his name was announced before kickoff.
Yet from the start, it was clear that Salah was staying out of anything too physical and there was no concerted effort from his Egypt teammates to pick him out each time. He didn't touch the ball until the seventh minute.
He did win the penalty — confirmed by the video assistant referee after Salah was pulled down by Roman Zobnin. He converted it in the 73rd minute, but it wasn't enough. Egypt is still without a victory in six World Cup matches.
Russia is nearly assured of advancing from the group stage for the first time since the Soviet era.
Cheryshev, who entered the World Cup as a fringe player, is proving lethal in front of goal, with his latest a side-footed effort from close range from Mario Fernandes' cross in the 59th. Dzyuba's goal was more direct, the striker chesting down a long ball from defender Ilya Kutepov, beating his marker and curling home a low finish.
Much now depends on the Uruguay-Saudi Arabia game on Wednesday in Rostov. A win or draw for Uruguay and the top two would meet to determine which team finishes in first place.
Egypt is hoping for an improbable win for Saudi Arabia.
KEY TO SUCCESS
Russia took advantage of Egypt's defensive mistakes to cruise into a three-goal lead out of nothing. Fathi's attempted clearance for the first goal was sloppy, as was Ali Gabr's attempt at closing down Dzyuba for the third goal.
Cheryshev continues to make those late runs in the area and is an unlikely leading scorer through two matches.