(Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

ST. PETERSBURG — They made the kind of swarming, swirling noise that goes into the ears and commandeers the body and starts sowing the goose bumps, the kind of noise that helps make sports irresistible to those afflicted with them, the kind of noise unattainable elsewhere. They made this noise 30 minutes before kickoff, ringing the stadium as an enormous, electric contingent that could make you feel the bigness of Egypt and its 97 million, until it seemed a whole chunk of Egypt might have dislodged from around the 30 North parallel and made it all the way up here close to the 60.

What’s lousy, then, is that somehow, this World Cup will always ache for the noise they did not make.

They never did get a chance at that boom the ears craved, the one that would have come had these eager fans beheld a World Cup goal by their global star, the beloved Mohamed Salah, at some juncture other than at a 3-0 deficit, which happened to be when he did score (on a penalty) Tuesday night, in his first game back from arduous shoulder rehabilitation. So when they filed out from a 3-1 loss to Russia that effectively snuffed Egypt’s chances of reaching the knockout stage, in their flag capes and their pharaoh hats and all else, a heartfelt summary came from an Egyptian management consultant based for 18 years around Washington, nowadays in Fairfax.

“You have no idea,” Mohannad Gomaa said, and soon after that he said, “It hurts,” and soon after that: “It does hurt.”

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[For more on Russia’s performance in the 3-1 victory, scroll down to the match report by Jacob Bogage.]

Gomaa joined 16 other fellow Egyptians from around Washington who had made their various ways to Russia, and they all know that as sport can dole out the din, it also can dish out the meanness, for it just went and threw a whole heap of the latter upon Egypt. Egypt had reached the World Cup finals for the first time in 28 years. Its older adults reveled in another chance at the spectacle at last while its young adults reveled in seeing what it all meant. It felt so heady and, as Gomaa described, it had that dimension that somehow, with people being curious beings, makes the thing even more appealing: the presence of a global star, the player of the year in the English Premier League, Salah, aimed toward a first World Cup.

Then on May 26 in the European Champions League final in Kiev, Salah of Liverpool and Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid tumbled to the pitch together, and Salah tumbled upon his shoulder, and blame started tumbling everywhere but mostly toward Ramos, and Liverpool Manager Jurgen Klopp called it “very bad for Mo Salah, for us and for Egypt.”

“It was a nightmare,” said Emr Shousha, a 28-year-old Cairo resident who pointed out that his age matches the duration of the Egyptian World Cup drought.

“We hated it at the final game of the Champions League,” said Ayman Shaadan, a 35-year-old Cairo resident. “We were very upset in Egypt with what happened.”

They said these things beforehand Tuesday night, as they made their way to their seats, as they still walked around with a vibrant and rational hope. In a Group A considered more toothless than other groups, they had lost their opener to Uruguay by 1-0 on an agonizing 89th-minute goal as Salah sat. Now, Salah would return, and if Egypt could squeeze by Russia and then Saudi Arabia after that, maybe it could walk the tightrope from uncertainty to the knockout round.

Salah did appear at least slightly diminished, maybe short of the form that would have come from training for three solid weeks with the national team rather than training alone. He often remained up the pitch early on while Egypt’s defense tried to deal with Russia’s parries. He did wring a big gasp in the 42nd minute when he got a mild chance in the box and wheeled around and sent one just left of the post.

That meant the score stayed scoreless until an outright absurdity on 47 minutes, when Egypt goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shenawy punched away a Russia cross, but Russia’s Roman Zobnin fielded it outside the box and tried a clumsy redirection, and that ball went awkwardly left and back into the box, where it caromed off the leg of Egypt defender Ahmed Fathi and trickled into the right side of the goal.

That meant that in their five days of the World Cup, Egypt fans had missed Salah and witnessed both an 89th-minute goal and an own goal even goofier than most own goals. That would be mean, mean and mean.

Russia would get two lovely goals within 15 minutes after that, two accomplishments, and the home crowd would have itself a loud time even as Salah would get his penalty on 73 minutes, but the whole big thing had just deflated and sagged. Egypt didn’t get back into this just to have Manager Hector Cuper say, “Certainly we will try to finish this World Cup in the best possible manner.”

He said: “We all know what Mo Salah means for the national team. He’s a crucial, vital player. He’s a point of reference. He’s given the team great satisfaction . . . We would have all preferred his injury not to have occurred. But that’s the way it is and we go on from there.”

Isn’t that something? You come to a World Cup and you get shoulder rehab and nutty own goal. That made the hope ebb some, Gomaa said, as “it changed the tone 180 degrees.” Now somehow, all that remain are a match with Saudi Arabia and then some memories, such as “being here and feeling the festivities,” Gomaa said, “and seeing Egyptians from all across the world,” plus “just a joy people have in Egypt about the participation.”

They had sung their national anthem stirringly in pregame. They had roared when Salah’s face appeared on the big screen during warm-ups. They had roared at his name during the quick public-address listing of the rosters.

What it might have been to hear those roars even magnified.

— Chuck Culpepper


Match report

Russia 3, Egypt 1

Russia pulled off another shocking and dominant win Tuesday, a clinical and aggressive 3-1 drubbing of Egypt in St. Petersburg. From the start, Russia’s energy overwhelmed the Pharaohs, who were still able to keep from conceding in the first 45 minutes.

But barely two minutes into the second half, the floodgates opened.

Aleksandr Golovin stepped into a shot from 25 yards out that was headed well wide, but it somehow found the legs of Russia’s Artem Dzyuba and Egypt’s Ahmed Fathi, who were tangling 8 yards out. The carom sent the ball past goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shenawy and the Russian crowd bonkers.

In the 59th minute, Denis Cheryshev scored his third goal of the tournament, tied for the lead with Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo. Three minutes later Russia pulled away with a classy goal from Dzyuba. He controlled a long ball off his chest, then tapped it around an Egyptian defender and volleyed a shot past El-Shenawy, who didn’t have a chance at a save.

Just how incredible has Russia’s two-game run been through Group A? The Russians are ranked No. 70 in the world in FIFA’s rankings. They only qualified for the World Cup as a courtesy to the host nation. Their group draw — with Uruguay, Saudi Arabia and Egypt — was called the Group of Life; observers questioned if there was something rotten in the draw because of how favorable it was for Russia. And yet, the Russian were still expected to finish at the bottom of group. Now they have eight goals, and have only conceded one: a penalty shot from Egypt’s Mohamed Salah Tuesday night when there was too little time left for it to matter.


What’s next

Russia: vs. Uruguay in Samara, June 25, 10 a.m.

Egypt: vs. Saudi Arabia in Volgograd, June 25, 10 a.m.

Complete World Cup schedule, results and standings


In-game updates

Yellow card to Russia’s Smolov

In the 84th minute.

Goal Egypt!

Video replay review came to the rescue for Egypt in the 73rd minute. Salah was pulled down around the 18-yard box and the referee originally gave the Pharaohs a free kick just outside the box. But the play went to replay review, and the call was overturned. Salah took the penalty kick and made no mistakes with the ball, depositing it in the top right corner.

Goal Russia!

And then the Russians follow it up three minutes later with a classy goal from Dzyuba in the 62nd minute. He controlled a long ball off his chest, then tapped it around an Egyptian defender and volleyed a shot past El-Shenawy, who didn’t have a chance at a save.

Goal Russia!

This could be the score that seals Russia’s place in the knockout stage. It was Denis Cheryshev, his third goal of the tournament, from five yards out off a slick pass from Mário Figueira Fernandes.

Yellow card to Egypt’s Trézéguet 

In the 57th minute.

Goal Russia!

What an awkward way to open the scoring two minutes into the second half. Aleksandr Golovin stepped into a shot from 25 yards out that was headed well wide, but it somehow found the legs of teammate Artem Dzyuba and Egypt’s Ahmed Fathi who were tangling 8 yards out. The carom sent the ball past goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shenawy and the Russian crowd bonkers.

The Pharaohs pleaded for a video replay review, but none came. With less than a half to play, they are already at risk of being eliminated from the knockout stage.

Halftime update: Russia 0, Egypt 0

Russia and Egypt played an even first half Tuesday night in St. Petersburg, both on the pitch and on the scoreboard. They go to halftime in a scoreless draw.

Russia earned opportunities early with a barrage of swinging crosses in front of the goal, but were met by Egyptian goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shenawy, who was active out of his net to pluck balls out of the air. Pharaohs striker Mohamed Salah was mostly blanketed by the Russian defense, but when he had time and space, he found room for a couple promising scoring chances.

In the 34th minute, he nearly got his foot to a cross a few yards from the goal. In the 42nd minute, he spun a defender around just outside the 18-yard box and fired a shot just wide.

The game is must-win for Egypt after falling to Uruguay last week. Russia with a win would likely clinch a spot in the knockout round.

Salah emerging now

In the 42nd minute, the Liverpool striker got his first good scoring chance from inside the 18-yard box, taking a pass around 17 yards from the goal, spinning his defender and firing a shot just wide.

Russia has blanketed Salah all game long, cutting off his runs and taking away his time and space. Egypt has responded by feeding Trézéguet in the attacking area and being more patient before chucking crosses toward the goal mouth.

Egypt applying the pressure 

The Pharaohs in the 15th minute won two corner kicks and a throw deep in Russian territory. Those yielded three decent chances, including a winding shot from 15 yards out from Trézéguet that didn’t miss by much.

Russia flying around in attacking half

The host nation is surely fired up with countrymen in the stands making a whole lot of noise. Russia has three shots already by the 12th minute and the match’s only two corners.

Starting lineups announced

And Mohamed Salah is in the game.

Pregame thoughts

The Russians are flying high after a 5-0 win against Saudi Arabia to open the World Cup last week. But Egypt is perhaps the best team in the Middle East, especially with the return of forward Mohamed Salah, who sat out the Pharaohs’ first match with an injured shoulder. After an opening 1-0 loss to Uruguay, Egypt desperately needs a win and three points if it expects to advance to the knockout stage.

Team profiles

Russia (1-0-0, 3 points)

  • Last World Cup showing: Group stage, 2002.
  • Best finish: Fourth place, 1966.
  • Notable: Russia’s first-game explosion gave the hosts the most goals and best goal differential in the tournament.
  • FIFA world ranking: 70. ELO world ranking: 40.

Egypt (0-0-1, 0 points)

  • Last World Cup showing: Group stage, 1990.
  • Best finish: Group stage, 1990 and 1934.
  • Notable: Egypt has still never won a World Cup game. It had two draws in 1990.
  • FIFA world ranking: 45. ELO world ranking: 54.

— Jacob Bogage

Read more about the World Cup:

Japan upsets undermanned Colombia

Poland faces off with Senegal in Group H

In the season of Mohamed Salah, the city of Liverpool wraps its arms around a Muslim

Egypt has Mo Salah back for World Cup, adding to its luck of the draw

Global opinions: Mo Salah is the unifying force the world needs right now

Liverpool soccer fans are quite literally singing the praises of a Muslim player