A 1-0 win for the South American side fails to mask their shortcomings despite booking their place in the knockout stages
Centurion Suarez strikes for Uruguay to send Saudi Arabia and Egypt out of 2018 World Cup
For better and worse, Luis Suarez has a capacity to command the attention. Typically, he ensured the limelight lingered on him as he marked a landmark appearance with a historic goal.
Suarez marked his 100th game for his country by becoming the first Uruguayan to score in three World Cups. In the process, a footballer with noted destructive tendencies cast two teams out of the tournament. Saudi Arabia were not alone in lamenting his decider.
Uruguay have assumed a status as the scourge of the Middle East. After inflicting a cruel defeat on Egypt, they eliminated both of their victims in the same game. They and Russia will progress, and they will contest top spot in Group A on Monday.
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The Saudis could at least argue there was no repeat of the embarrassment of the 5-0 defeat to Russia but while Juan Antonio Pizzi’s team were not as naive, they threaten to end the World Cup goalless and pointless.
They were toothless as, for the second consecutive game, their problems lay in either box. They could rue two chances Hattan Bahebri spurned to level. The first, a fine long-range shot, drew a save from Fernando Muslera. The second, a volley from eight yards, was skewed over the bar.
Yet an unambitious side on a damage-limitation exercise barely troubled goalkeeper Muslera while Mohammad Al Sahlawi, their most potent striker, was limited to a 13-minute cameo.
There was never a danger of Suarez suffering the same fate. He had looked out of sorts against Egypt. He seemed altogether sharper and spikier as he chalked up a record 52nd goal for his country.
Russia had exposed the Saudis’ difficulties defending the aerial ball and Suarez was able to volley the ball into the unguarded net when Mohammed Al Owais came for and missed Carlos Sanchez’s corner.
It was a goal to shine a light on the decision-making of the two managers. Oscar Tabarez had brought in Sanchez, who had supplied Jose Gimenez’s winner against Egypt as a substitute. Pizzi had demoted goalkeeper Abdullah Al Mayouf as he made four changes. Replacing him with the rookie Al Owais backfired after Saudi Arabia had made an assured start.
Al Owais did better to parry a deflected Suarez free kick and to deny Edinson Cavani with his feet when the forward powered through, but by then the damage was done. As he was against Egypt, Cavani was a forceful presence.
Sanchez also headed over after a wonderful cross from the Paris Saint-Germain striker and Cavani came close to doubling the lead when he redirected substitute Lucas Torreira’s effort, yet it was a game with comparatively little drama.
Uruguay drop deep and concede possession. They are scarcely a side for the purists, but they may boast the world’s finest centre-back. Once again, Diego Godin took it upon himself to stride imperiously out of defence to inject an extra ingredient.
While Sanchez exerted an influence on the right flank, Tabarez , who had made a double change in midfield in his initial selection, made another with half an hour remaining. His search for creativity continues.
Uruguay’s 4-4-2 formation is workmanlike but there is a lack of class between a dependable defence that is yet to concede and their superstar strikers. It is telling that both of their goals so far have come from set-pieces. They have created too little in open play.
It may be an issue against better sides but, aided by their sixth centurion, Uruguay have won their first two World Cup games for the first time since 1954.
They were semi-finalists then. Limited as they look, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that history repeats itself.