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Sports

Russia, Uruguay to slug it out for top place in Group A

media Russian fan holds national flag as he celebrates after the match on June 20. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva

Russia face Uruguay on Monday in Samara for a fight to top Group A. That the hosts are in such a position of potential supremacy confounds the doubt and gloomy predictions that overshadowed their preparations for the tournament.

Stanislav Cherchesov’s men had not won any of their previous seven matches before the opening day clash on 14 June against Saudi Arabia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

But the 5-0 victory captured the nation’s imagination especially the brace from first half substitute Denis Cheryshev.

It has been near hysteria since the 3-1 dismissal of a highly rated Egypt side on 19 June. And on the eve of the showdown with Uruguay, Cherchesov said he did not plan to tinker with a winning team.

“I’ll only change something if the medical team say it is necessary,” said the 54-year-old. "We’re preparing for the game against Uruguay in exactly the same manner as the other games. It’s just that this time we’re into the next stage. ”

Striker Alan Dzagoev is still out with the injury to his left thigh that forced him to limp off mid-way through the first half against Saudi Arabia. His departure led to the introduction of Cheryshev who has scored three goals.

"We’re certainly not going to rush Dzagoev back,” said Cherchesov. “We’ve got to take it carefully with him. We’re sad to miss a player of his quality but we’re in a tournament and that’s what happens. "

Cherchesov’s Uruguay counterpart, Oscar Tabarez, said he was also planning to keep faith with a side that has won both its encounters. “We’ve prepared to play seven matches in a month and so fatigue isn’t really an issue for us,” he added.

"We’re fit and ready to go," said striker Edinson Cavani. "Those who aren’t on the field are supporting us from the bench.”

While Uruguay have a spot in the last 16 for the third consecutive tournament, Russia will play there for first time since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991. Whether they play in Sochi as Group A winners on 30 June or in Moscow as runners-up on 1 July, they will – without a doubt - have the vociferous backing of the crowd.

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