This was not quite the dream send-off into the second round that Russia had envisaged.
A nation so down on its team leading into the World Cup had swiftly been swept up in a wave of optimism following a start to their Group A campaign that even president Vladimir Putin wouldn’t have dared dream.
An opening 5-0 crushing of a desperate Saudi Arabia was backed up by a comprehensive 3-1 defeat of Egypt, as qualification to the knockouts was secured with a game to spare.
Monday’s meeting with Uruguay was supposed to be a celebration of the team’s unexpected passage to the last 16, and a draw would have seen them advance as group winners.
That carnival atmosphere was certainly evident pre-match as, with both sides already heading through, the respective sets of supporters mixed happily in the baking Samara sunshine.
— Harry West (@West1882) June 25, 2018
The party continued inside the stadium as the fans flocked in and made an almighty racket, before Russia’s positivity was punctured within 10 minutes by Luis Suarez.
The Barcelona striker, who celebrated his 100th cap with the only goal against Saudi Arabia last time out, swept home a free-kick right on the edge of the box and for the first time at these finals the hosts found themselves chasing the contest.
If the opener had been clinical and classy, Uruguay’s second owed more to a huge slice of fortune as Diego Laxalt’s long-range strike deflected wickedly off Denis Cheryshev and wrong-footed Igor Akinfeev.
Between the goals, Russia had gone close as cult hero Artem Dzyuba linked up well with Cheryshev, who was denied by Fernando Muslera – the goalkeeper making his 100th appearance.
Dzyuba had battered the Egypt backline six days ago, but Uruguay have done this dance before.
Diego Godin is a battle-hardened warrior and, even though regular partner Jose Gimenez was missing through injury, his replacement Sebastian Coates coped commendably with Dzyuba’s considerable physical threat. Neither Coates nor Godin were in danger of crumbling like the two defences before them.
At the opposite end of the pitch, Suarez provided that extra touch of quality that Saudi Arabia – or a half-fit Mohamed Salah – could not.
— Selección Uruguaya (@Uruguay) June 25, 2018
Sergei Ignashevich looked every day of his near 38 years in chasing after the Barca man, while Igor Smolnikov’s second caution in quick succession, for scything down Laxalt, was a physical encapsulation of a first half that had got away from the hosts.
Such strong front-runners in the first two matches, picking off their opponents on the break with aplomb, Stanislav Cherchesov’s side are not designed to force the issue.
Uruguay, by contrast, are perfectly set-up to keep teams at arm’s length and they had few problems during a second period that at times meandered to a procession, Edinson Cavani converting from close range in the final minute to complete a comfortable 3-0 victory.
It must not be forgotten that few anticipated Russia’s presence in the last 16, and home fans should revel in their unexpected achievement.
But Suarez, Godin and Uruguay exposed their limitations in stark fashion here, ahead of a likely second-round meeting with Portugal or Spain.
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