World Cup victories for Russia, Senegal and Japan
2018 Fifa World Cup
Group A: Russia 3 Egypt 1
HOSTS Russia all but guaranteed their place in the last 16 of the World Cup, shrugging aside the goalscoring return of Mohamed Salah to sweep aside Egypt 3-1 in St Petersburg.
Derided by many as one of the worst World Cup home sides in living memory, Stanislav Cherchesov's side doubled down on their 5-0 thrashing of Saudi Arabia with another narrative-busting display that will take them to the knockout phase barring a highly unlikely sequence of results.
Ahmed Fathi provided the helping hand, bundling home Roman Zobnin's scuffed shot moments early in the second half and taking the Africans to the brink of a disappointing exit, but Russia's victory was assured by smart strikes from Denis Cheryshev and Artem Dzyuba.
Roared on by their countrymen, who have been braced for calamity at the competition but now sense something grander, they survived a VAR-assisted penalty from Salah on his eagerly anticipated comeback from a dislocated shoulder.
The Liverpool forward's appearance in the Egypt XI, his first outing since walking out of the Champions League final with tears in his eyes, immediately raised the stakes.
As well as providing a reward for the forward's diligent rehabilitation, it offered the fixture some much-needed star power and helped divide the attention of an otherwise partisan 60,000 crowd.
While Russia's every foray upfield was roared on with gusto, the mercury rose every time the Premier League's top-scorer sniffed the ball.
For much of the night a sniff was all he got, stationed to the right of Marwan Mohsen and often uncomfortably close to the touch-tight Yuri Zhirkov.
Having fed on scraps against the run of play he had a couple of half-chances late in the first half, one snuffed out by the alert Zhirkov at the far post and the other whipped wide from the edge of the box.
At other times he enjoyed even less success, reduced to waiting expectantly under long balls from back or forced discourteously to the turf as he attempted to spin his marker.
The decibel levels when Salah moved into the final third spoke of his status but at times he gave the impression of a movie star deprived of a script.
Russia, meanwhile, turned in a competent 45 minutes on the front. Sergei Ignashevich should have done better with a close-range header and the impressive Aleksandr Golovin flashed a low shot wide but 0-0 was a fair account.
Egypt blinked first, and early, after the break. A neat move down the right wing brought Roman Zobnin into shooting range and though his shot skipped seemingly harmlessly into the box, Fathi somehow contrived to stagger into it and nudge it past his own keeper.
Almost an hour had passed when Cheryshev doubled the lead, having already scored twice in the tournament curtain-raiser.
Mario Fernandes laid it on for him, bursting clear and cutting back into the area, leaving the Villarreal midfielder to thread a first-time shot inside the post.
Dzyuba, after a strong evening's work leading the line, made it 3-0 shortly after. It was a fine piece of forward play - collecting the ball on his chest, nudging past Ali Gabr and sliding a neat shot past Mohamed El-Shenawy.
There was still time for Salah, and the video officials, to stamp their mark on the night. An initial free-kick was upgraded to a penalty on review and smashed home clinically, but there was no stopping the home team's charge and their joyous reaction at the final whistle was that of a team with knockout football on their minds.
Group H: Poland 1 Senegal 2
POLAND coach Adam Nawalka blamed a plan gone awry and a "curious" goal for his side's lacklustre 2-1 defeat by Senegal in their Group H opener.
The seeded team in the group, Poland had been hoping to inflict a fifth straight defeat on Russia 2018's African contingent but they did not account for their opponents' tactical discipline or good fortune.
Senegal's first goal came when defender Thiago Cionek deflected a wayward Idrissa Gueye shot past Wojciech Szczesny after 37 minutes, and the second was the result of mix-up involving Grzegorz Krychowiak, Jan Bednarek and the cursed Szczesny, which left M'Baye Niang with an open goal on the hour.
Krychowiak would get one back with a header in the 86th minute but, as Nawalka would admit after the game, it was not nearly enough on a bad day at the office for the European side.
"We had a plan but plans are one thing and implementing them another," said Nawalka afterwards.
"Statistically we had more of the ball but what counts is what ends up in the net. Our wingers didn't do their jobs and the central midfielders weren't very good either.
"We played better after the break but it wasn't enough and we're not very happy with two goals from our mistakes. But we'll analyse the game, recuperate and get ready for the next game."
Asked if the problem was the attacking 4-2-3-1 formation he picked, Nawalka said "no, that's now why we lost". For him the culprits were "a lack of accuracy and quality", "unnecessary mistakes" and failing to match Senegal's "aggression".
He was not overly happy with Niang's goal, either, as the Torino striker had been off receiving treatment but was waved on by the referee just as Krychowiak played a bouncing back pass towards Bednarek.
The Southampton defender did not see the Senegalese poacher until it was too late and he then poked the ball past Szczesny's late-arriving cavalry and walked the ball into the net.
"The second goal was kind of curious, we had the ball and I'm convinced that Jan Bednarek didn't see the player coming on," said Nawalka.
"I don't really know what happened. We were very surprised and the players thought a substitute was coming on."
There was no such confusion in the Senegal camp, just elation.
Their coach, Aliou Cisse, who captained the team in the country's last World Cup adventure in 2002, said his side because "we were disciplined, compact and aggressive".
The youngest coach here at 42, Cisse said: "They had more of the ball but every time they made a mistake we hit them and forced them back."
On whether this win meant Senegal were now carrying Africa's hopes in this tournament, as they had done 16 years ago, Cisse said: "Absolutely, today Senegal represents the whole continent.
"We are Senegal, so we are proud to play for our country but I can see that the whole continent is supporting us, too. I got calls today from all over Africa and we are proud of that.
"But I think it's too early to write the other African countries off just yet. OK, it's important to get off to a good start but the second and third matches are important as well, so hopefully Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Nigeria will step up."
Progress to the last 16 is now within Senegal's grasp, which means the Lions of Teranga could meet England's Three Lions for a place in the last eight.
Group H: Colombia 1 Japan 2
COLOMBIA coach Jose Pekerman blamed his team's World Cup defeat to Japan on fatigue after they played almost the entire match with a man less.
Carlos Sanchez was sent off after just three minutes for handling Shinji Kagawa's shot, with the Japan playmaker slotting home the resulting penalty.
Colombia recovered to draw level through Juan Quintero's free-kick before half-time, but Yuya Osako's 73rd-minute header secured all three points for Japan at a time when they were the superior team.
Pekerman's team had been the favourites in Saransk, but Japan increasingly impressed as the game unfolded.
"Normally you prepare to play 11 against 11, it's not easy to lose such a crucial player in the first three minutes," he told reporters, according to FIFA's official website. "We managed to survive in the first half. We even got to a draw, even with one player less.
"Despite that, in the second half, Japan managed to adapt to the situation. They managed to score, and played better, and by taking advantage of the opportunities that emerged.
"Japan had that extra man in defence.
"We wanted to attack with players such as (Carlos) Bacca and James (Rodriguez). Especially because Quintero felt the effects of the first half, and started the second half rather tired.
"Even though we played with 10 we proved we could draw the match, which is what we actually did at one stage.
"The pain we feel is because after a huge effort, we lost because we were worn down, we were tired, we lost this opportunity. Even if I tried subbing on fresh players, it was very hard for us to recover possession."
Colombia now face Poland before completing their Group H campaign against Senegal, and Pekerman said: "We'll see if we can make up for this defeat in the next two matches."
Japan boss Akira Nishino admitted his team's game plan became about exploiting the fact Colombia had been reduced to 10 men.
Despite the victory proving Japan's first at a World Cup in Europe, in six attempts, he also warned they remain far from certain of progressing to the competition's knockout stages.
"I said at half-time that if we can keep the ball moving, we can deprive the Colombia players of their stamina," said the 63-year-old, according to FIFA.
"Our players were aggressive from the start and I think that worked very well for us.
"This is just one win and three points, so we will save our celebration."
Man of the match Osako added: "To score a goal in the World Cup has been a dream for me since I was little, so I am extremely happy."