By the time that Russia and Egypt meet in St Petersburg on Tuesday evening, all of the first round of World Cup 2018 group matches will have been played.
This is a great time to really up the ante as far as our bets are concerned, with some interesting lessons being learned about the teams involved.
Russia demolished Saudi Arabia 5-0, but was anybody truly impressed? The Saudis were awful, it would be fair to say, but even then the scoreline flattered the Russians: the Middle Eastern outfit’s goalkeeper had a moment of madness to cost one goal, and two others came in injury time.
With key playmaker Alan Dzagoev injured for the group phase at least, the jury remains out on the hosts as a force to be reckoned with.
As for Egypt, the big news is that Mo Salah should return from the shoulder injury he picked up in Liverpool’s Champions League final against Real Madrid.
The Egyptian Football Association confirmed that the winger was actually fit for his side’s first game against Uruguay, which they lost 0-1, but coach Hector Cuper did not want to take the risk with his star man.
But now he is ready to be let off the leash for a game that Egypt have to win, realistically, if they are to progress to the last 16.
Home Comforts for Cheryshev & Co
There would have been plenty of nerves around when Russia took on the Saudis in World Cup 2018’s first game.
Hosting brings with it huge pressure as does playing in the first match, and with the Russians struggling in competitive football in recent years the home fans were expected to have to ensure more misery.
But they needn’t have bothered, as their heroes demolished a poor Saudi Arabia outfit that might have to man the barricades in their next two games.
That said, the home team could only fashion seven shots on target, and you wonder if the absence of Dzagoev – one of the few players in this Russia team that can unlock a defence – will ultimately be their downfall.
Desert Eagles Can Soar
It’s one thing having a world class player at your disposal like Salah, but football is rarely a sport where one player can assert too much dominance on proceedings; Cristiano Ronaldo aside when pulling on that Portugal shirt.
But the other ten chaps on your team need to have something about him too, and the Egyptians showed plenty albeit in defeat to Uruguay.
They shackled Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani perfectly; restricting the pair to just four shots on target.
They couldn’t find a way through at the other end, but they showed enough to suggest they will be a real handful when they take on Russia on Wednesday.
How much of an advantage is playing at home? It can work both ways, and while the Russian fans will out sing, shout and scream their Egyptian counterparts, we all know that if things aren’t going so well that ‘support’ can turn to something rather more negative.
If the Africans can get their noses in front early on in St Petersburg, you can expect the crowd to turn rather less patriotic in due course.
The bookmakers have been seduced by Russia’s home advantage and the margin of their win over Saudi Arabia, but one thing we can tell you is if they had only beaten the Saudis by the odd goal they would not be priced as short as 11/10 here.
The scoreline flattered the Russians, by all accounts, and instead we are willing to pin our hopes on the Egyptians producing a similarly disciplined performance to that they served up against Uruguay.
The equation, that they will have a greater cutting edge and belief with Salah in the side, is justifiable enough to support the Africans in some fashion.
Mind you, it would be a brave punter who takes the 10/3 readily available on them humbling their hosts, so why not take a punt on them in the Draw No Bet category at 13/8.
We have seen shock results already in this tournament, and ignoring the odds would anybody really be surprised if Egypt ruined Russia’s hopes of home success on Wednesday?