When looking at the schedule for the opening games in the World Cup, many will have thought Russia vs Saudi Arabia would be only an afterthought to the opening ceremony and Egypt vs Uruguay would be the game which really kicked off the tournament.
As it turned out, Russia produced a dominant display against a poor Saudi Arabia side to please their watching president, Vladimir Putin, and the fans of the host nation who had gathered in the capital.
The showpiece between Egypt and Uruguay, Mohamed Salah and Luis Suarez, in Yekaterinburg turned out to be a fairly stodgy affair in which Salah remained on the sidelines, and Suarez may as well have done.
José Giménez’s late winner eventually provided the drama as Uruguay won without playing well. The sign of potential champions?
Uruguay’s 4-4-2 formation was more of a 4-2-2-2. Giorgian De Arrascaeta and Nahitan Nández operated as the second pair, drifting slightly wide to the left and right, respectively.
However, the formation struggled against Egypt’s stout defensive setup which stood strong right until the last.
Uruguay’s attacking midfielders provided them with some width in the first half, but not enough, De Arrascaeta looked to drop inside into the number ten position which reflected his shirt number, and Nández was ineffective on the right.
It was no surprise when they were substituted just before the hour mark to be replaced by Carlos Sánchez and Cristian Rodriguez.
They needed the full-backs to come forward on the overlap, but they appeared tentative. Left-back Martín Cáceres is a former centre-back and was unlikely to provide much attacking threat, and Guillermo Varela mirrored him on the other side, despite having the ability to provide more going forward.
One of the more dangerous Uruguay attacks occurred when Cáceres finally advanced, swinging in a dangerous cross which had to be dealt with by Ahmed Hegazi.
Defensive Strike Partners
Much of the attacking play from the back four came not from the full-backs, but the central defenders.
The forward runs of Giménez, and especially from captain Diego Godin who took matters into his own hands on a number of occasions, gave Uruguay the unpredictability they needed in attack. It was Giménez who won the free kick from which he scored.
Godin attempted as many dribbles as Suarez and made more key passes than De Arrascaeta.
The Uruguayan defensive partnership also made 13 interceptions between them. It was more Giménez and Godin than Cavani and Suarez.
Cavani > Suarez
Martin Keown, commentating on the English feed of this game, described Suarez’s display accurately when he said he “looks like he’s towing a caravan”.
If he wasn’t losing the ball with his first touch or making a bad decision with his second or third, he was being caught offside or knocking the ball out for a goal kick.
Cavani, on the other hand, looked the part. He did brilliantly to turn and play Suarez in on goal in the second half, but the number nine delayed his shot so long it never came and goalkeeper El-Shenawy gathered at his feet. It summed up the contributions of both strikers.
The PSG star was the player who looked to take control of the game. He had two shots on goal within the first 25-minutes, one with each foot, as he dropped behind Suarez in an attempt to make things happen.
Suarez missed an easy chance at the back post early on in the game, failing to connect properly with a loose ball following a corner which had been won by Cavani. The Barcelona man was trying to do too much, trying too hard, and it was up to Cavani to run the show and provide composure in attack.
He tested Mohamed El-Shenawy with a fearsome volley in the 83rd minute, but the Al Ahly keeper was up to the task. He hit the post with a free kick shortly after, justifiably pulling rank above Suarez, before Giménez won the game by heading in Sánchez’s free kick from the right.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Group D in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.
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