The hype before the start of the first game of the second round in the league stage was unimaginable. Around one hour before the game, it was announced that Mo Salah was going to play. It was a do or die for Egypt and their talisman was back. Earlier in the tournament, we had seen how Ronaldo had inspired Portugal to victory with a superb hat-trick in their first game. Could the star of this European season do the same? It was a question that was asked over and over again and the answer that most seemed to come up with was ‘Yes’.

His presence alone seemed to lift the crowd at the stadium and the team. They seemed confident; they seemed to have a spring in their stride. But as it turned out, it seemed to inspire Russia too.

Russia won 5-0 against Saudi Arabia with a surprising performance but they unexpectedly managed to find an even higher gear against Egypt. They played at a breathless pace throughout the game, running at the Egypt defence with a speed that was unexpected but a joy to watch. And Mo Salah, for all the hype, was missing for the first 30 minutes. At that point, he had had the least number of touches by an Egyptian player.

It was his first game back, only three weeks after sustaining an injury to his shoulder in the Champions League final. So perhaps the rust was understandable. But Yuri Zhirkov covered him brilliantly as well. The Egyptian looked hesitant though. He wasn’t rushing into tackles the way he did for Liverpool; he wasn’t playing with the physicality that one has come to associate with him either.

But for most of the first half, Russia — luckily for Egypt — were wasteful. Cross after cross was put into the Egypt penalty area and cross after cross went abegging. One couldn’t help but wonder whether Salah would wake up at some point and punish them. The only player to have a shot on target in the first half was Sergei Ignashevich, Russia’s 38-year-old central defender, and that statistic has its own story to tell.

Still, when the first half ended 0-0, no one could have expected what was to follow.

The second half began and Russia finally found their mark. Egypt captain Ahmed Fathi handed Russia a gift by deflecting into his own net – already the fifth own-goal at Russia 2018 (the all-time record is just 6). Then, Denis Cheryshev and Artem Dzyuba netted twice in three minutes to extinguish almost all of Egypt’s remaining hope. By the 62nd minute, Russia were 3-0 up. The home crowd roared its approval and the Pharaohs looked to Salah with a desperate plea for help.

He started up his engine, earned a penalty and converted emphatically from the spot in the 72nd minute. The goal came after a 350-minute goal drought for Egypt at the World Cup. Their last also came from a spot-kick, against the Netherlands in 1990, being scored by Magdy Abdelghani. But it was not enough to rescue his side.

Individual heat map for Egypt's players. FIFA

From a tactical point of view, Hector Cuper’s side were a complete mess. Salah was positioned on the wing but Egypt does not have Firmino or a Mane in their ranks. Those two create space for Salah to run into and that is when he is at his deadliest.

It didn’t stop there.

Defensively and offensively, Egypt lacked courage. The goals came from defensive lapses and with their World Cup on the line, they certainly needed to do more on the day. Some might say, that Russia didn’t allow them to but they had the opportunity to decide their own destiny and they failed to take it.

One man is just one man

But Egypt’s troubles also reflected how difficult it is for one man to do it all at the World Cup. Teams win World Cups, individuals don’t. You can’t defend, attack, inspire, tackle… you can’t do everything on the pitch no matter how talented you are.

At the World Cup; at the highest level — one-man shows can surprise the opposition... sometimes. But if they already have you in their sights, they will find a way to mark the star player out of the game. We saw that happen to Neymar against Switzerland; we saw that happen to Messi in the last World Cup and over the years, we have seen it happen to almost every major star the game has seen.

It took Egypt 28 years to make it back to the World Cup and after just two games, their dream lies in tatters. It is perhaps a reflection of how individual brilliance — from Salah or someone else — can only take you so far.