Russia’s impressive start to the World Cup took a downward turn as they had a man sent off and were easily defeated by Uruguay, whose victory means they top Group A.
There was a party atmosphere around the scorching Samara Arena before kick-off, with fans having travelled from all over the country keen to share in the good feeling surrounding their national team.
Russia had scored eight goals in sweeping victories over Saudi Arabia and Egypt and were already guaranteed to progress, but they went behind in their final group match after only 10 minutes when Luis Suarez drilled in a clever low free-kick.
It got worse for Stanislav Cherchesov’s side when a Diego Laxalt effort from 25 yards was deflected in by Denis Cheryshev, leaving his keeper Igor Akifneev stranded and in the position of having conceded three goals at the tournament without making a save.
Akinfeev did then come out to block a Rodrigo Bentancur chance, with Roman Zobnin just scrambling the rebound clear of Edinson Cavani, before Igor Smolnikov picked up a second yellow card and was sent off 35 minutes into his World Cup debut.
After the break, Russia’s 10 men composed themselves and at least managed to wrest back some control of the match, with Uruguay always looking dangerous but perhaps happy to concede possession and protect their lead.
The hosts were rewarded with their best chances of the match, the first to Artem Dzuba, who fired wildly over the bar from inside the box, the second by Fedor Smelov, who dazzled to find space in behind the Uruguay defence but failed to pick out a team-mate with what looked to be an easy cut-back.
But the final word was left to Cavani, who put several earlier misses behind him to get his first goal of the tournament by stabbing in from close range after an Akinfeev parry, ensuring Russia finished as runners-up.
Both teams will find out their last 16 opponents later this evening, with Uruguay set to play the Group B runners-up, and Russia the Group B winners.
Current Group B leaders Spain play Morocco, who are already eliminated.
Second-placed Portugal face Iran, who must win if they are to reach the knockout stage for the first time in their history.
Russia’s party atmosphere falls flat
You could say this was the first time Russia had faced quality opposition at this tournament, and for many the manner of this defeat will mark them out as vulnerable in the next round.
Right from the outset, and even at the end when there was very little hope of a comeback emerging, there was much of the same remarkable vocal support from the stands. But on the pitch there was very little of the dynamism we saw from Russia’s players in their opening two victories.
Almost every set-piece was delivered too long, and there were so many key sloppy passes – like Yuri Gazinskiy’s to begin the passage of play that led to Suarez scoring from a free-kick – or Mario Fernandes’ when for once early in the second half Uruguay looked like they might be opened up.
Perhaps the fact that Russia, the lowest ranked team here at 70 in the world, started this game having already qualified affected their approach. Perhaps it was the oppressive heat. Midfielder Aleksandr Golovin, one of their best performers here so far, was also rested.
What is certain is that now, having finished second, Russia will play their next match at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, where they beat Saudia Arabia 5-0 in the tournament’s opening match. It will be another sell-out partisan crowd.
However, it is likely that their opponents there will be Spain – with the 2010 World Cup winners expected to secure their place as Group B winners with a victory over Morocco later this evening, although Portugal could top the group with a better result against Iran.
There was very little doubt about who would win this game after an early period in which Russia were blown away.
Suarez looked determined to impress after his poor opening match against Egypt, and it was his clever low free-kick that set the tone for what was a very comfortable victory.
There was plenty of noise from the stands – so Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera will have had many quieter games in terms of volume – but he had little work to do as he became his country’s all-time leading appearance maker at the World Cup.
At his 14th match at the tournament, and on the occasion of his 100th cap, Uruguay simply out-performed Russia, and of course were for much of the game a player better off.
There was even finally a goal for Cavani right at the end. For a long time it looked like it would not come as the Paris St-Germain striker endured a mostly frustrating evening.
He missed three good chances before finally things fell into place as the rebound from an Akinfeev parry landed kindly at his feet.
The Uruguay fans stayed long after the final whistle to cheer their team. For them it is three wins from three, but their next match will be a much more serious test.
Russia need to score first – the stats
- Uruguay have finished as first round group winners for the fifth time, having done so previously in 1930, 1950, 1954 and 2010.
- Russia are the first European side to fail to top their group as the host nation since Spain in 1982.
- Russia are now winless in each of their six World Cup matches in which they have conceded the first goal (D1 L5).
- Uruguay are the first side to win all three of their group games without conceding a single goal since Argentina in 1998 (seven goals scored, none conceded).
- Uruguay have won three consecutive World Cup matches against European opposition for the first time since a run of four straight victories between 1950 and 1954.
- Russia’s Denis Cheryshev scored the sixth own goal at this year’s tournament, the joint-most number of own goals at a single World Cup (also six in 1998).
- Russian defender Igor Smolnikov is the first outfield player to be sent off for the host nation of a World Cup since Marcel Desailly for France against Brazil in the 1998 final.
- Edinson Cavani became just the second player to score a goal in three separate World Cup tournaments for Uruguay (2010, 2014 and 2018) after his strike partner Luis Suarez.
- Fernando Muslera, celebrating his 100th cap in this game, became Uruguay’s all-time leading appearance maker at the World Cup (14) overtaking Ladislao Mazurkiewicz.
‘We could have won by more’ – what they said
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez: “Russia did not push us around, they tried to put us into a corner. Not only did we prevent them from doing that, but we put them in their half of the pitch in the first half. We could have won by even more goals.
“We did not manage to score on certain counter-attacks that we should have. Sometimes the timing wasn’t perfect. We need to improve very quickly, because any match in the round of 16 will be extremely difficult.
“The result and to be top of our group pleased me most. We won by a wide margin but I like the fact that we didn’t concede. We need to work towards that end. And I liked the dedication and concentration that my team had. They were focused from end to end, the entire squad. They executed the plan.”
Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov: “Even when we had 10 people on the pitch, they were running hard and they wanted to attack more. That’s why I brought on a substitute.
“Psychologically, we are well prepared for the next games.
“This is one thing and when you come to the pitch to play the game it’s another. This is an art to be prepared at any second.”
Courtesy : BBC News