It’s hard to pick the moment where it all fell apart. Russia came into their match against Uruguay with plenty of reason for optimism. Buoyed by their vocal home crowds, their heavily-criticised team had looked like world beaters in their first two matches, scoring eight goals, conceding just one and sealing their qualification for the round of 16 with a game to spare. Uruguay, on the other hand, hadn’t looked particularly fluent despite winning both of their opening two games and confirming their safe passage from the group alongside Russia. The Russians, with all their confidence, looked ideally placed to upset Uruguay and take out first place in the group. By half time, they had received a sobering reality check. 2-0 down, and reduced to ten men, Russia’s bubble had burst in extraordinary fashion. Where did it all go wrong?
Did it fall apart with the first goal, aided and abetted by a horrendous pass? Aleksandr Samedov’s errant ball missed its target completely, and Luis Suárez ran onto it in plenty of space. Ilya Kutepov stopped Suárez’s pass to Edinson Cavani from finding its target, but the rebound was collected by Rodrigo Bentancur on the edge of the box. Yury Gazinsky stopped Bentancur through less legal means than those Kutepov had used seconds earlier, taking his legs out, earning himself a yellow card and granting Uruguay a free-kick right on the edge of the area. Suárez made no mistake. Igor Akinfeev, expecting the ball to fly over his carefully set-up wall, was caught off-guard and flat-footed when Suárez aimed for the other side of the goal, and he couldn’t lay a hand on the ball as it slipped past him into the bottom corner. Uruguay’s opener, coming just 10 minutes in, put the Russians on the back foot, and they never really recovered.Embed from Getty Images
Diego Godín (front) competes for the ball with Artem Dzyuba. Despite being smaller than his opponent, Godín managed to shut Dzyuba down with his vast experience.
Was it the second goal, stemming from an unfortunate concoction of bad timing and bad luck, which really brought the Russian bandwagon to a screaming halt? Russia fought hard in the minutes after going behind, with giant striker Artem Dzyuba having an impact and Denis Cheryshev nearly scoring with a well-hit shot that Fernando Muslera couldn’t quite control. Diego Godín, Uruguay’s defensive rock, just stopped Cheryshev from getting the rebound. Then Uruguay doubled their advantage. Lucas Torreira’s corner was headed away, and Diego Laxalt took on an ambitious shot from well outside the area. He shouldn’t have had a prayer. Then Cheryshev, who had scored three goals in two games and been the surprise hero of Russia’s tournament, attempted to charge the shot down, and the results were disastrous. The ball ricocheted towards the bottom corner, and Akinfeev couldn’t recover in time to stop it. Cheryshev’s own goal completely derailed the Russians, and Uruguay nearly scored again minutes later when Bentancur turned the ball over in the Uruguayan attacking third. Luckily for Russia, Akinfeev saved it, and Roman Zobnin was there to stop Cavani from scoring the follow-up effort.
Was it the red card, given to Igor Smolnikov 10 minutes before the break, which really came to represent Russia’s woes? Smolnikov was only in the team as a replacement for the rested Mário Fernandes, and it’s fair to say he didn’t have his best game. He had already received a booking after clattering into Cavani, but when Laxalt started racing down the wing he slid in without any thought for the consequences. Laxalt’s legs were taken out from under him, and Malang Diedhiou had no choice but to send Smolnikov packing. The only delay came as the referee fumbled in his back pocket to locate the red card. A man down, and with their confidence already shot, the Russians were well on the road to a humbling defeat.
The second half wasn’t particularly exciting, but there were moments which represented Russia’s slide. There was Dzyuba’s poor effort after some woeful Uruguayan passing in the defensive third gave them an opening. There was Kutepov’s muffed clearance, which flew out of bounds barely five metres away from where he’d kicked it. There was Kutepov’s pinpoint pass to Cavani, with the Russian centre-back splitting the middle of two of his teammates to gift possession to Uruguay in a dangerous position. To cap it all off, Uruguay scored another with less than a minute of normal time remaining. Akinfeev parried Godín’s powerful header as the centre-back rose to meet Torreira’s corner, and was left helpless as Cavani bundled the rebound in. It said a lot for Russia’s limp defence that Suárez, looking for a second goal, was the only player competing with Cavani for the ball. As the game wound down, there was a cruel irony to be found in the fact that the Cosmos Arena, designed to pay homage to Russia’s history of space exploration, was the venue where the Russians came crashing back down to earth.Embed from Getty Images
Edinson Cavani wheels away in celebration after scoring Uruguay’s third goal late. Cavani worked hard all day, and the goal was a fitting reward for his efforts.
Samara – Cosmos Arena
Uruguay 3 (Suárez 10, Cheryshev 23 og, Cavani 90)
Referee: Malang Diedhiou (Sen)
Uruguay (3-5-2): Muslera – Coates, Godín, Cáceres; Nández (Rodríguez 73), Vecino, Torreira, Bentancur (de Arrascaeta 63), Laxalt; Suárez, Cavani (Gómez 90+3).
Russia (4-2-3-1): Akinfeev – Smolnikov, Kutepov, Ignashevich, Kudryashov; Gazinsky (Kuzyayev 46), Zobnin; Samedov, Aleksei Miranchuk (Smolov 60), Cheryshev (Mário Fernandes 38); Dzyuba.
Sent-off: Smolnikov 36
1. Rodrigo Bentancur (Uruguay)
Bentancur played very well in a more advanced midfield role, working hard to challenge the Russians when they had the ball and creating opportunities with his strength and skill. He won the free-kick which led to Suárez’s goal, and he was instrumental in a few dangerous pieces of attacking play.
2. Edinson Cavani (Uruguay)
Cavani became increasingly determined to get himself a goal as the game went on, and his work never dropped off as a result. He got his goal in the end, tapping in a header from very close range, and it was a deserved reward for an excellent performance which heaped plenty of pressure on the Russian defence.
3. Diego Godín (Uruguay)
Godín was another Uruguayan whose effort never faltered, battling hard to repress the dangerous Dzyuba. Despite giving up a size disadvantage against the massive Russian striker he came out on top in most of their physical duels, and he even managed to play a key role in Uruguay’s final goal with the game winding down.
4. Luis Suárez (Uruguay)
Suárez scored his second goal of the tournament with a brilliantly-taken free-kick, and he was a dangerous attacking presence throughout the game. His positioning was as good as ever, and his combination with Cavani is becoming more fluent with every game.
5. Sergei Ignashevich (Russia)
In the first game where Russia’s much-questioned defence has been tested Ignashevich stood much taller than the rest. He made some excellent challenges to deny the Uruguayans, and more than justified the decision to bring him back from international retirement for this tournament.