83 minutes in, Uruguay’s first match of the World Cup wasn’t going to plan. They were being held by an Egyptian side missing talismanic attacker Mohamed Salah, and their star strike pairing of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suárez just wasn’t quite at their best. Then, everything clicked. Suárez was holding his ground on the edge of the box, and his headed pass reached Cavani outside the area without touching the ground. The resulting volley was flawless. It was on target, but Cavani sacrificed no power in ensuring it was bound for the goal. It was perfectly directed into the top corner. As it rocketed towards the Egyptian goal, it was clear that it was the breakthrough Uruguay were looking for.
The match had started turgidly, with both sides starting cautiously and never really taking the game on. Over 20 minutes had elapsed before Suárez missed the only clear-cut chance of the half when the ball fell at his feet following a poorly-defended corner. He hit it badly, and the ball rolled harmlessly into the side netting. For their part, Egypt were fighting hard. Captain Ahmed Fathy was in top-form at right-back, and Tarek Hamed was stifling Uruguay’s young midfield with his hard work shielding the defence.Embed from Getty Images
Mohamed El-Shenawy makes a stunning save to deny Edinson Cavani late in the game. El-Shenawy made a number of excellent saves to push Uruguay right up to the final whistle.
Uruguay were ready to take the lead with Cavani’s thunderous volley. Unfortunately, no-one let Mohamed El-Shenawy know. The Egyptian goalkeeper flung himself at the ball, and acrobatically batted the chance away. It bounced over the line for a corner, and Cavani could only shake his head in disbelief. It just wasn’t Uruguay’s day. Confirmation of that thought seemed to come minutes later, when Cavani’s hard-hit free-kick smashed into the woodwork. When Carlos Sánchez inadvertently blocked a teammate’s follow-up shot, the moment was lost. Uruguay were pushing, but the gods just weren’t smiling on them.
After a very dull first half, things began to pick up in the second. A poor piece of aerial work by Ahmed Hegazi allowed Suárez and Cavani to combine, and some quick thinking by El-Shenawy was all that prevented Uruguay from taking the lead. Egypt continued to weather the storm, however, recovering from an injury to Hamed and holding firm against a Uruguayan attack that was beginning to lose its intensity. Kahraba came off the bench and provided some pace, and along with the talented Trézéguet and the hard-working Amr Warda he began to ask questions of the Uruguayan defence. Centre-backs Diego Godín and José María Giménez were up to the task, but the game had settled into a lull and it wasn’t clear where the next goal was coming from.Embed from Getty Images
José María Giménez (second from front) scores the winner in the 89th minute. The goal capped off a late surge by the Uruguayans to end Egypt’s resistance.
Then, after a sustained assault, Egypt’s resistance came to an end. It was Sánchez who provided the delivery, swinging in a free-kick from the right and picking out his centre-backs in the middle. Godín, Uruguay’s master of late goals, was poised to take the chance. Giménez didn’t allow it to happen, rising above the rest and beating his captain to the ball. This time, the perfectly placed header found its way into the bottom corner, and El-Shenawy stood rooted to the spot. On the bench, Salah was brought to tears, but his forced inactivity meant there was nothing he could do about it. Without their star, there was nothing Egypt could do about it either.
Of course, the Pharaohs continued to push for an equaliser, hoping against hope for an avenue past the unyielding Uruguayan defence. No such opening could be found, leaving Egypt to face a Russian side brimming with confidence with a heart. They fought as hard as they could, and they pushed their opponents right to the final whistle, but Giménez’s late winner may haunt them for the rest of the tournament. For Uruguay, it was far from a perfect performance. They were pretty uninspiring for most of the game. But in the end, they won, and that’s really all that counts.
Yekaterinburg – Central Stadium
Uruguay 1 (Giménez 89)
Referee: Björn Kuipers (Ned)
Egypt (4-2-3-1): El-Shenawy – Fathy, Ali Gabr, Hegazi, Abdel-Shafy; Tarek Hamed (Morsy 50), Elneny; Warda (Ramadan Sobhi 82), Abdallah Said, Trézéguet; Marwan Mohsen (Kahraba 63).
Uruguay (4-4-2): Muslera – Varela, Giménez, Godín, Cáceres; Nández (Sánchez 58), Vecino (Torreira 87), Bentancur, de Arrascaeta (Rodríguez 59); Suárez, Cavani.
1. Edinson Cavani (Uruguay)
Cavani ensured Uruguay were always a threat, and his class within the final third sparked Uruguay’s devastating late charge to victory. He was unlucky not to score with his thunderous volley and his near-perfect free-kick, and on another day he could have had a massive impact on the scoreline. He will only improve from here.
2. Mohamed El-Shenawy (Egypt)
El-Shenawy was something of a surprise choice over veteran Essam El-Hadary, but he more than justified his selection with the game of his life in the Egyptian goal. His save to deny Cavani in the latter stages of the match was top-class, and his anticipation in cutting off Uruguayan attacks prevented a number of goals.
3. Diego Godín (Uruguay)
Godín showed all of his experience in central defence, and worked brilliantly with Giménez to form an impenetrable wall in front of keeper Fernando Muslera. He thwarted plenty of Egyptian attacks, and could well have scored had his central defensive partner not stolen the moment from him. He was as consistent as ever.
4. Ahmed Fathy (Egypt)
Given the captaincy for Egypt’s first World Cup match since 1990, Fathy didn’t disappoint and put in a brilliant performance at right-back. His defensive work was clean and his ability to impact the game all over the ground was a testament to the effort he put in. He was a very calm presence, and was a thorn in Uruguay’s side throughout.
5. Luis Suárez (Uruguay)
Suárez wasn’t quite in top form, and he missed a number of very gettable chances, but he made himself a nuisance for the Egyptian defence all day. His positioning was excellent, and the improvement in his combination with Cavani as the game progressed bodes well for the rest of the tournament. If he starts taking chances, his opponents will be in trouble.