Luis Suarez scores as Uruguay tops Group A with victory over Russia
Host Russia suffered its heaviest defeat at a World Cup as Uruguay won the battle to top Group A with a convincing 3-0 victory.
It was a match to forget for the Russians at the Samara Arena as they succumbed to their first loss of the tournament.
Twice they conceded in the first half — through a Luis Suarez free-kick and a Denis Cheryshev own goal — and were reduced to 10 men in the 36th minute when Igor Smolnikov was sent off for two bookable offenses.
In the game’s closing stages, Edinson Cavani’s close-range finish following a corner added a third and Uruguay celebrated winning all three group games at a World Cup for the first time in its history.
With both teams having secured qualification to the knockout stages with victories in their two opening matches, this was a contest to decide the group’s final standings, although with Spain and Portugal as prospective last-16 opponents there appears little advantage in finishing first or second.
Uruguay and Russia will learn of their next opponents when Group B concludes later on Monday.
In the afternoon’s other match, Mo Salah scored Egypt’s first goal in open play since the 1934 World Cup, but it wasn’t enough as Saudi Arabia won 2-1 after scoring a late winner in stoppage time.
Two yellows in 9 minutes = red
Having scored eight goals in two games, Russia would have been hopeful of continuing its good form, but the South Americans — who have yet to concede in this tournament — were worthy winners after a particularly dominant first half.
Barcelona star Suarez put his team ahead with a low free-kick into the bottom-right corner which goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev should have saved.
Twelve minutes later and the Russians conceded again with Diego Laxalt’s long-range strike fortuitously deflecting off Cheryshev, Russia’s top scorer in the tournament with three goals.
Smolnikov then compounded the hosts’ woes with a clumsy foul on Laxalt, which led to his second yellow within nine minutes, and from there on a first World Cup win for Russia over South American opposition seemed unlikely.
Russia, the lowest ranked team at this tournament at 70 in the world, improved after the break — in the 77th minute Artem Dzyuba squandered an opportunity to halve the deficit — but the damage had already been done in the opening 45 minutes.
Cavani, sweeping home from four yards after Akinfeev parried Diego Godin into his path, made it a record-breaking defeat for the Russians.
But, considering Russia began the World Cup winless in 2018 and with little hope, Stanislav Cherchesov’s men will be pleased with their overall performance in a group where Egypt and Uruguay were pre-tournament favorites to progress.
Third defeat for Egypt
At the Volgograd Arena, Saudi Arabia took on Egypt with little more to play for than pride.
Both teams had lost their opening two fixtures, the Pharaohs making more headlines off the pitch than on it after a controversial visit to Chechnya.
Still Egypt will depart this tournament having made history. A first World Cup start for 45-year-old goalkeeper Essam El Hadary — 22 years on from his international debut — saw the veteran enter the record books, eclipsing Colombian Fayrd Mondragón (43 years, three days) as the oldest player in tournament history.
But his performance also proved to be worth the wait — El Hadary producing a stunning save to beat Fahad Al Mulwallad’s penalty onto the bar as the first half drew to a close.
Salah had already handed the Pharaohs the lead, delicately lifting it over Saudi goalkeeper Yasser Al Mosailem to score Egypt’s first World Cup goal from open play since 27 May 1934.
Such a damning statistic is testament to the fact Egypt — the most successful team in the history of the Africa Cup of Nations — has rarely been able to produce its best form on the biggest stage of all.
Indeed it wasn’t long before Saudi Arabia got back into the game, referee Wilmar Perez awarding a second penalty in first-half added time after a long VAR delay.
This time El-Hadary was powerless to stop the penalty, Salman Al Faraj stepping up to score his country’s first World Cup goal since 14 June 2006.
Crossing the line with 50 minutes and 36 seconds on the clock, it was also the latest recorded goal in the first half of a World Cup game since 1966.
The second half was pretty uneventful, but just as the match appeared to be petering out in tandem with these teams’ World Cup dreams, Salem Al-Dawsari scored a late Saudi Arabia winner with the last kick of the game.
El-Hadary’s day was overshadowed and the Green Falcons could celebrate a first World Cup victory since 1994.