Uruguay booked their place in the last 16 of the World Cup after a 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia in Rostov-on-Don on Wednesday afternoon.
The victory, which also confirms Russia’s place in the knockout stage and eliminates both Saudi Arabia and Egypt, was secured through a close-range goal from Luis Suarez (23) on his 100th appearance for his country.
Uruguay now need to beat Russia in Samara next Monday to top the group, while Saudi Arabia will head home following their final Group A game against Egypt.
Saudi Arabia were humbled 5-0 by Russia in their opening match, but performed much more admirably in Rostov, dominating first-half possession and carving out two early opportunities for Hatan Bahbir, who hit a long-range shot at Fernando Muslera and volleyed wide from close range.
Uruguay: Muslera (7), Varela (6), Godin (7), Gimenez (7), Caceres (7), Sanchez (6), Bentancur (7), Vecino (6), Rodriguez (7), Suarez (7), Cavani (7)
Subs: Torreira (6), Laxalt (6), Nandez (n/a)
Saudi Arabia: Al-Owais (6), Hawsawi (7), Al-Bulayhi (7), Al-Burayk (6), Al-Shahrani (6), Al-Faraj (6), Bahbir (7), Ateef (7), Al-Jassam (6), Al-Dawsari (6), Al-Muwallad (6)
Subs: Al-Mogahwi (6), Kanno (6), Al-Sahlawi (6)
Man of the match: Diego Godin
But their hard work was undone by some poor marking in the 23rd minute as Suarez became the first Uruguayan to score in three successive World Cup finals with the opening goal.
Carlos Sanchez swung in a corner which sailed to the far post where the unmarked Barcelona forward volleyed home with his left foot from the edge of the six-yard box.
Both sides appeared to struggle in the Rostov heat for much of the game and Sanchez wasted the first big opportunity of the second half when he headed Edinson Cavani’s inswinging cross over the bar.
Luis Suarez won his 100th cap for Uruguay, starting up front with Edinson Cavani. Carlos Sanchez and Cristian Rodriguez came into the side. Saudi Arabia made four changes from the 5-0 hammering by Russia – with Mohammed Al-Owais replacing Abdullah Al-Maiouf in goal.
Cavani himself almost inadvertently doubled the lead with 10 minutes to go when substitute Lucas Torreira struck a wild shot from distance which deflected off his face and went narrowly wide of the post.
He had an even better chance four minutes before the end when he bullied Ali Al-Bulayhi and forced a smart stop from Mohammed Al-Owais.
Saudi Arabia rarely threatened to equalise and while Uruguay’s organised football was hardly eye-catching, their veteran boss Oscar Tabarez will care little after securing a passage to the knockout stages on the back of a pair of 1-0 wins.
- Saudi Arabia have now been eliminated at the group stages in four of the five World Cup Finals they have participated in.
- Saudi Arabia have now failed to win any of their previous 12 World Cup matches (D2 L10), failing to score in nine of those games.
- Luis Suarez’s goal for Uruguay was the 25th scored from a set-piece scenario at this World Cup tournament.
- Luis Suarez has become the first Uruguayan player to score in three different editions of the World Cup (2010, 2014 & 2018).
- Luis Suarez has been directly involved in eight of Uruguay’s last 15 World Cup goals (six goals, two assists).
Man of the Match – Diego Godin
In a game of precious few chances, the central defenders from both sides emerged with the most credit.
Osama Hawsawi and Ali Al-Bulayhi saw their copybook blotted by Suarez’s sloppy winner, but Godin and Jose Gimenez hardly put a foot wrong in 90 minutes.
Atletico Madrid defender Godin showed class throughout, dealing with crosses into the box and executing a precise slide tackle on Hatan Bahbir in the first half. Tabarez has clearly built this Uruguay side on a solid foundation.
Uruguay will play hosts Russia in Samara at 3pm next Monday to determine which side will top the group, while Saudi Arabia will face Egypt at the same time in Volgograd with both eliminated sides looking to pick up their first points of the tournament.