Egypt's second-half implosion was still to come but the look of weary frustration painted across Mohamed Salah's face at the interval said it all.
Whatever was to unfold at Krestovsky Stadium – ultimately almost certainly a swift World Cup exit via a chastening 3-1 defeat for his country – Salah would be in no position to influence the outcome.
Having scattered defences across England and Europe throughout a dizzying 2017-18 campaign that yielded 44 goals, here Salah was on the periphery. A powerless, forlorn victim of circumstance.
Since he tumbled to the Kiev turf locked together fatefully with Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos last month, there has been a relentless sense of frenzy around the Premier League Golden Boot winner.
From the consistently conflicting medical updates over his rate of recovery from a shoulder injury to the perplexing numbers signing a "something must be done" petition with regards to Ramos who, as usual, revelled in the role of pantomime villain.
Wily Argentinian coach Hector Cuper opted not to use Salah in Egypt's opening 1-0 loss to Uruguay in Group A but now it was time to roll the dice.
Egypt's travelling army of fans have not been hard to see or hear in St Petersburg over recent days, repeatedly bursting into their hero's Liverpool anthem with the gusto of long-time Kop season ticket holders.
Salah's name was roared at kick-off but his most notable role during the opening stages was to station himself in a one-man defensive wall. Russia were firmly on top, with Denis Cheryshev and Aleksandr Golovin picking up from where they left off in the opening night evisceration of Saudi Arabia.
Golden Boot? Come here to daddy pic.twitter.com/GasYbIerEm— Mohamed Salah (@MoSalah) May 13, 2018
The PFA and FWA Player of the Year's first touch came in the 11th minute. A tentative, uncertain prod under pressure. Possession was lost.
On the opposite flank, Egypt's left-winger Trezeguet cut inside and curled a menacing shot just wide. It felt like watching a mirror image of Salah's favourite move. Maybe we were all just desperate for the real thing.
In the 28th minute, Yuri Zhirkov must have feared the worst when faced by Salah in the left-back position. A tamely chipped cross was the outcome.
The merry runs at overmatched defenders Salah made his pastime this season were already clearly too much to ask but Zhirkov had to be alert to prevent him from turning in a tap-in at the back post. The mind as sharp as the shoulder undercooked.
There was a thrash of frustration in the 35th minute when Salah volleyed an aimless square pass to the opposition on halfway and his night already looked a lost cause by the time he clipped narrowly wide, having got the ball clumsily stuck under his feet.
The second half was defined by a forward who could scarcely be more contrasting to the star attraction.
At first glance, Artem Dzyuba has the dimensions and mobility of a wardrobe but this unashamedly old-fashioned striker is suddenly a cult hero for the home faithful.
His muscular presence helped persuade Egypt captain Ahmed Fathi to skew the ball into his own net in the 47th minute.
Dzyuba's ungainly clump into the right channel before the hour looked likely to end the attack but Egypt were scrambling and Bruno Fernandes and Cheryshev combined for a moment of pure class generally lacking elsewhere.
Cheryshev is now in unlikely pursuit of a Golden Boot Salah will be unable to add to his collection and, after Dzyuba and his bustling brawn deliriously clattered home a third, the sight of Salah getting on the scoresheet was tinged with sadness.
The lithe movement to draw a desperate foul, the smooth strike to dispatch the penalty, the sujood celebration. All a tantalising glance of what might have been at Russia 2018.
|Hart ready to leave City to revive career|
|Puel shuts down Schmeichel transfer speculation|
|Four-way tie at Barbasol Championship as Lincicombe misses cut|
|Lenglet happy not to face Messi|
|Tuchel keen to get PSG stars back after friendly defeat|
|Pulisic signing would interest Klopp|
|Whatever b******t you say, no one forgets – Klopp defends spending comments|
|Usyk outclasses Gassiev to make cruiserweight history|
|Pella books Cecchinato meeting in Umag, Ramanathan´s Newport run continues|
|Kisner expects nothing but exchange of ´horror stories´ with housemate Spieth|
|Inter new boy Lautaro Martinez denies Zenit in six-goal thriller|
|McIlroy eyeing early gains to apply scoreboard pressure|
|The Open 2018 diary: Spieth´s close shave|
|Salah is fully recovered and full of joy – Klopp|
|De Laurentiis accuses Sarri of trying to sign whole Napoli team|
|Lewis Hamilton explains German GP woes|
|O´Driscoll hails ´Test match animal´ Warburton|
|Spieth relishing prospect of Tiger tussle at Carnoustie|
|Sanches pushing for Bayern second chance - Kovac|
|Put on the Sunday red and enjoy Tiger´s ride regardless of Carnoustie outcome|
|Flawless Spieth takes share of Open lead after Tiger winds back the years|
|PSG´s Tuchel to be patient with World Cup stars Neymar, Mbappe & Cavani|
|Sanchez joins United tour in LA after visa issues|
|Catalans crush Salford to confirm Super League safety|
|Hamilton not giving up despite Hockenheim heartbreak|
|Spieth surges into Open Championship lead|
|Dumoulin is our biggest threat – Froome|
|Sane: Low gave me good reasons for World Cup snub|
|Tiger Woods in the hunt and loving it at The Open|
|Vettel delighted with German GP pole performance|
|Deschamps lauds intelligence of ´extraordinary´ Mbappe|
|Thomas maintains advantage as Fraile powers to stage victory|
|Woods sets clubhouse target, Kisner edges back in front|
|Bayern Munich 3 Paris Saint-Germain 1: Sanches strikes in ICC clash|
|Dost re-signs with Sporting CP after initially rescinding contract|
|Impressive Lions see off Jaguares to seal Waratahs semi|
|I´ll show Mourinho I´m ready, says United´s Pereira|
|Fognini sets up final clash with Gasquet|
|Injury ends Bouchard´s Swiss hopes, Sevastova through in Bucharest|
|That didn´t Work-u...race leader pulls up short of 3000metre finish|
|Prowling Tiger Woods on Open charge as Spieth joins leaders|
|Federer will struggle away from Wimbledon - Henman|
|Hamilton expecting tough Sunday at Hockenheim|
|Spalletti expects Icardi, Perisic to stay at Inter|
|Vettel smashes lap record to take Hockenheim pole after Hamilton woe|
|Warner targets Australia recall after Darwin debut|
|Rose: Open Sunday will be ´interesting´ after 64|
|Hamilton out of German GP qualifying as Mercedes falters|
|Pogba, Mbappe, Griezmann? Deschamps mulls Ballon d´Or contenders|
|Farah concussed on 250th Wests game as Tigers stun Souths|
|Waratahs overrun Highlanders in stunning second-half fightback|
|Rose scores record-equalling 64 to jump into Open contention|
|Moreno hails Liverpool´s recruitment drive as ´top, top players´ arrive|
|AC Milan elect new board with CEO Fassone out|
|Sri Lanka grind sorry South Africa into the Colombo dirt|
|Mina ready to reject offers for Barcelona stay|
|Guardiola tells Sane to use World Cup snub as motivation|
|Golovin´s ex-team-mate Chepchugov drops hint over Chelsea move|
|Reed & Rose make early charges on Carnoustie ´moving day´|
|Sancho ´had a point to prove´ in Dortmund´s win over Manchester City|
|Li hits back at AC Milan owners Elliott as bitter split continues|
|Crusaders cruise past Sharks to book Hurricanes semi-final|
|Rabiot would be a great signing for Barcelona – Xavi|
|JaVale McGee: Lakers are going to be ´one of the most fun teams ever´|
|Dolphins owner Ross: National anthem policy a ´placeholder´|
|Boga leaves Chelsea for Sassuolo|
|Schurrle in talks to leave Borussia Dortmund|
|Guardiola happy with Mahrez and Man City despite loss|
|Dodgers top Brewers in Machado´s debut|
|Raptors GM apologises to DeRozan after Spurs trade|