Content advisory 18+ So, will the real Russia stand up and be counted? That is the question to be answered in tonight's Russia-Egypt football match which will likely determine whether or not Putin's boys advance to the next round. I will be watching and pulling for them, anxious to find out if the 5-0 shellacking of Saudi was a fluke.
Of great interest will be (1) whether or not Mo Shalah (Egypt's superstar for those of you who live on Mars) will play, and (2) if he does, how effective will he be coming back from injury? But Egypt gave a good account of itself against uruguay even without their prodigy, and Uruguay is a tough customer, so expect Russia to have its hands full come what may.
Typical of Russian mentality, some of the guys I spoke to after the Saudi match were of the opinion that the match must have been fixed to make Russia look good, but these guys have a conspiracy theory for everything. Nonsense, Russia was superb, especially in terms of shots on goal, even if Saudi was pretty awful. But tonight we will get the real news, good or bad.
As for the rest of the tournament, it is humming right along and apparently everyone who cares anything about football is enjoying the feast. Even the police are being nice to everybody and there is no trace of fan violence (as I predicted. Nor will there be.) Portugal-Spain was a great football match, with the fabulous Rinaldo once again showing why he is top dog. I mean, anyone who has just found out that he owes 18 mln euros to the Spanish government (for tax evasion) and has been given a two-year suspended prison sentence -- and who then can go out and score a hat-trick against possibly the best team in the world, must surely have total focus plus ice water in his veins. His free kick at the end put the cap on a splendid evening in Sochi. Kudos.
Otherwise, allowing for the fact that we are still only in the Round Robin stage during which (as I told you last week) the most entertaining football is always played in the World Cup), the biggest stories had to be the way that giants Argentina, Germany, and Brazil were humbled by supposedly lesser opposition.
That iceland drew with Argentina was astonishing even though the South Americans had been very unimpressive in the run-up to the World Cup. Lionel Messi, who -- for reasons I can never understand -- is always mediocre when he takes off the Barcelona jersey to play for his country, once again proved a disappointment, and he capped off his lackluster performance by missing a penalty which would have won the match. I admit that I used to idolize Messi until I saw how he played in the Final of the last World Cup against the Germans. He just disappeared in that match, and true superstars are not supposed to do that. I mean, you play all your life to reach such a moment -- the Final of the World Cup -- you are the MAN, and what do you do? You disappear.
The Mexicans were great against the flat, slow, uninspired Germans and they deserved every inch of their victory. But Germany -- as the Germans tend to do -- will find a way to play themselves back into the competition. Brazil got robbed against the Swiss, but at the same time, you cannot declare that they were any more impressive than the Argentines or Germans. Neymar is all flash and dazzle but lacks a bit of substance, and probably he was not in the best of shape for this match due to a long lay-off. But the Swiss made an enemy of me by the way the hacked and fouled and pulled at Neymar all night. Disgraceful. The referee gave a goal to the Swiss that should not have been and denied a clear penalty to Brazil late in the match. That is why -- as I said in my last blog -- we need instant replay (used consistently, rather than sparingly as now) to rectify some of the more stupid decisions the refs make.
I say these things as objectively as I know to be because I am not a particular fan of any of these sides -- I just like good, clean, fair, exciting football.
England won against Tunisia last night, but I suppose it indicates how far England has fallen in my estimation that I mention them only out of a sense of duty and as an afterthought They will get out of a group that includes panama as well, but the end will come soon after that.
france-Australia deserves an honorable mention for being the great match that they played. The Aussies can knock it about a bit but are in a tough group...
OK, the table is set. Russia, this is your moment, your chance to secure a place in the knock-out round. What will we see? What will it be?
===Eric Richard Leroy===