16:00 BST, Wednesday 20th June, Rostov Arena (Rostov-on-Don, Russia), BBC One
While both teams disappointed in their opening match, Uruguay’s relatively poor showing was softened by a late win.
Óscar Tabárez’s men must now find the attacking verve which was absent against a defensive-minded Pharaohs side, but arguably have the perfect opponents to rekindle their mojo
After losing 5-0 to the lowest-ranked team in the tournament during their opening match, Saudi Arabia are a side who will be greatly lacking in confidence.
With many believing their showing to be the worst start to a World Cup campaign in 64 years when Brazil beat Mexico 5-0, Juan Antonio Pizzi will have to quickly pick up his players for this match.
The danger for Uruguay appear to be in underestimating their opponents and they will need to battle the pressures of expectation if the game remains goalless for any sustained length of time in this match.
Last Time Out
Egypt 0-1 Uruguay
An 89th-minute header from centre-back José Giménez saved South American blushes following a stilted attacking performance.
With Egypt’s Mohamed Salah an unused substitute, their counter-attacking game was missing its main cutting thrust. Uruguay, by comparison, fielded a full-strength team, but were still missing fluency of their own.
Striker Edinson Cavani was one of the few positives for Óscar Tabárez. The forward came the closest to breaking the deadlock, his 88th-minute free-kick striking the inside of the post.
Prior to that he had linked up play well for fellow striker Luis Suárez and gone close with some long-range efforts, however, he only had 17 touches of the ball in the game and none of those were inside the Egyptian penalty area.
Centre-back and captain Diego Godín proved to be the inspirational figure in the team, often providing more of an attacking outlet than any of his teammates.
Read five things we learned from Uruguay’s late victory HERE.
Fellow centre-back Giménez was the player to eventually clinch the winning goal, converting substitute Carlos Sánchez’s free-kick late in the game and sealing a victory which was far from convincing.
Russia 5-0 Saudi Arabia
The opening match of the tournament will be a game that Saudi Arabia will want to quickly forget. In a meeting billed as a battle between the two lowest-ranking sides competing this summer, Russia proved that home advantage was a significant boost to their lowly standing.
It took only 12 minutes for Yuri Gazinsky to score the tournament’s first goal. With Russia having slowly grown into the match, Saudi Arabia had offered little at that point which was a trend they would continue throughout the match.
Although the game was largely lifeless, Russia were the only side to show any adventure and they were rewarded just before the interval with a second goal.
Read five things we learned from a terrible Saudi Arabia performance HERE.
The second half followed a painfully similar pattern for Juan Antonio Pizzi’s team and they finished the game without managing a shot on the Russian goal.
With the final two goals coming during added time at the end of the game, Saudi Arabia’s misery was made complete. Rather than suggesting their players had downed tools early to concede those final goals, it was more a case that they had failed to pick them up at any time during the game.
Óscar Tabárez is expected to play a 4-4-2 formation again, but could well make some changes in personnel.
While the youthful midfield could benefit from being afforded more time to bloom, they could also benefit from competition for their place and the experience offered from other squad members.
As such, 24-year-old Giorgian De Arrascaeta could make way for Peñarol’s 32-year-old Cristian Rodríguez on the left wing.
Saudi Arabia Lineup
Saudi Arabia could also make tweaks to their starting lineup after the poor showing they made against Russia.
Mansour Al-Harbi could return to the left-back berth with Yasir Al Shahrani switching to the opposite flank.
Levante striker Fahad Al-Muwallad could also force his way into the first team as the Green Eagles main striker, although Mohammed Al Sahlawi’s better historical record for the country could see him regain the role for this match.
Key Battle: Luis Suárez (Uruguay) vs Yasser Al Mosailem (Saudi Arabia)
Edinson Cavani may have looked the most lively forward against Egypt and may have scored twice as many (10) goals in qualifying as his strike partner, however, it is Suárez who has arguably the greater potential to produce for his country at this tournament.
A slow decline in his goal scoring return for Barcelona over the last three seasons still saw him score 31 goals in 2017/18.
As a player who thrives on the largest of stages, his poor display on Friday could well spur him to greater things on Wednesday.
The issue, however, was the Suarez was hesitant. Even when he’s played poorly in the past, he was assured in what he was doing. This is perhaps most troublesome.
Looking to shore up a defence which leaked five goals against the hosts, goalkeeper, Abdullah Al-Mayouf, could find himself replaced for Saudi Arabia’s second game.
Having played seven of the countries ten qualifying matches, Yasser Al Mosailem is already an established member of their squad.
Potentially making his 33rd international appearance in this game, the Al-Ahli Saudi FC keeper could be set to face the toughest challenge of his career so far.
The carrot or the stick
Following the humiliating nature of their defeat to Russia, disappointment has been expressed by senior members of the nations football federation. Further to this, the Kingdom’s Minister of Sports, Turki Al-Sheikh, claimed that three members of the team would pay a penalty for their poor displays.
Goalkeeper Abdullah Al Mayouf, defender Omar Hawsawi and lone striker Mohammad Al-Sahlawi were the three in question, although it wasn’t made clear what the penalty would be.
Adel Ezzat, the head of the SFA, was in agreement with this sentiment but moved to quash the idea that any serious reprimands would be issued.
Having also mentioned the financial aid and efforts made to support the team during the last three years, Al-Sheikh’s statement can be perceived to carry monetary implications rather than anything more sinister.
It goes in the opposite direction to the Rolls Royce’s which were offered to any goalscorers for the United Arab Emirates in the 2006 World Cup.
It remains to be seen whether these three players will again feature for their country this summer or whether this warning has the desired effect of instilling more backbone into the squad.
Following a heavy defeat by the weakest of their three opponents in Group A, there are genuine fears that Saudi Arabia may continue being over-powered in Russia.
Saudi Arabia’s own worst performance at the finals is already setting a low benchmark. Their campaign in 2002 at South Korea and Japan saw them lose all three group games without scoring a goal.
Saudi Arabia’s record at the 2002 World Cup:
- 8-0 vs Germany
- 1-0 vs Cameroon
- 3-0 vs Republic of Ireland
The biggest single loss at the finals should remain out of reach, El Salvador’s 10-1 thumping by Hungary in 1982 unlikely to be rivalled in the foreseeable future.
As far as records for three-match group stages are concerned, Zaire currently hold the ignominious title for poorest form. Their 1974 expedition to West Germany saw them lose to Yugoslavia, Brazil and then Scotland by 9, 3 and then 2 goals, respectively.
This loss of 14 goals without reply is the only thing standing between Saudi Arabia and humiliation and they will be keen not to slip any closer to this total when they take on the group favourites on Wednesday.
Prediction: Uruguay 3-0 Saudi Arabia
With little expectations heading into this match, Saudi Arabia will be eager to come away with a respectable scoreline as much as a positive result.
Uruguay will be equally eager to prove themselves at this tournament after a largely toothless opening match.
A clean sheet looks likely for the South American side, but they could find a more resistant team than the Russian’s faced last Thursday which could result in a lower scoreline for the Saudis this time around.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Group A in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.
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