Uruguay secure Group A top spot with World Cup victory over 10-man Russia

Oliver Brown
Edinson Cavani scores Uruguay's third from close range - REUTERS

If the airless sensation inside the space-age Samara Arena arose in part from the sopping evening humidity, then it also reflected the oxygen sucked with dramatic suddenness from Russia’s exuberant World Cup campaign. 

Having glided so serenely into the last 16, the hosts smashed head-first here into the reality of their own limitations, as a Uruguay side turbocharged by Luis Suarez put them to the sword with a ruthless flourish.

There had been suggestions that Vladimir Putin might swing by this game for another dose of reflected glory, but ultimately he did well to stay away. 

While the Sbornaya had quickened pulses and raised eyebrows with their constant running en route to two stirring victories, they slipped back against Uruguay into the leaden displays of old. 

They did not look like the same team who had demolished Saudi Arabia and Egypt at this tournament, but they did bear an uncanny resemblance to the side who had lost tamely to Austria just a few weeks before.

Russia had the luxury of knowing that they had already eclipsed all public expectations, and it showed. On their first appearance in Samara, they encountered febrile partisan support but could do nothing to reciprocate, folding weakly as soon as Suarez ignored some wrestling in the box to dispatch his free-kick low to Igor Akinfeev’s left.

Luis Suarez opened the scoring with a well-taken free-kick Credit: AP

With chastening haste, Russia came to understand their team’s key flaws: that they had a goalkeeper hardly blessed with the best decision-making skills, and a centre-back, in Sergei Ignashevich, nearing his 39th birthday.

The malaise did not end there. Denis Cheryshev turned fall guy when Diego Laxalt’s strike looped off his body and beyond the clutches of Akinfeev. As a contest, the match was effectively killed off inside 23 minutes, although Igor Smolnikov compounded his team-mates’ predicament when, showing no caution in light of his previous yellow card, he scythed down Laxalt in full flight to be sent off.

Stanislav Cherchesov, Russia’s smouldering bruiser of a coach, looked more thunderous than ever, although he did manage a moment of levity in the press conference, facing down his grim-faced inquisitors. He parted with the words: “That’s it? No applause? No nothing?” 

A few seconds later, he decided to applaud himself. 

In the circumstances, he could be forgiven a little gallows humour. It is not even a fortnight since he took a congratulatory telephone call from Putin after an opening 5-0 win, but it must now seem half a lifetime ago.

Uruguay were simply too quick, too elusive, too efficient for Russia to defy their detractors a third straight time. While Suarez deserved kudos for his seventh World Cup goal in national colours – only Oscar Miguez, whose last appearance on this stage came in 1954, has more for La Celeste – this was also a result built from the back. 

Diego Godin showed precisely how he has carved a reputation as arguably the world’s most consistent defender. Even with the loss Jose Gimenez, his usual accomplice for both his country and Atletico Madrid, he never looked like being outwitted here. With a sixth shut-out in a row, Uruguay equalled a record that they last set in 1970.

“For the first few matches, you’re tense, and you don’t want to make any mistakes,” said Suarez, clutching his man-of-the-match award. “One mistake can be very expensive. This time, we came to the pitch with a different attitude and perspective, and that made us handle the pressure better.” 

No wonder his coach, Oscar Tabarez, could scarcely stop smiling. “We won by a large margin but I like the fact that we didn’t concede,” Tabarez said. 

“We could have won by more – sometimes the timing wasn’t perfect. But for me, the holy grail of football is balance. We work on our balance all the time.”

Even though 68 years have elapsed since they last won a World Cup, Uruguay should be considered the greatest threat in the knockout phase, even to the big beasts. 

With Godin orchestrating the back line superbly, and with over £130 million worth of attacking quality wrapped up in Suarez and Edinson Cavani, this country of a mere 3.4 million people can still punch comfortably above its weight. 

Once its players had a man advantage over Russia here, they seemed to be easing through a glorified training session. Where Artem Dzyuba was ponderous and lethargic for Russia, Suarez appeared a threat every time he surged forward. 

So, too, did Cavani, even if he has spent much of his career in his strike partner’s shadow. With a blood-red sun sinking low against the Samara skyline, he finally snaffled the goal his efforts merited, poking in a rebound after Akinfeev had saved from Godin. 

By then, most of the Russia fans, faces painted in anticipation of another glorious raid, were streaming towards the exits. 

Yes, their team surpassed themselves to avoid the ignominy of a first-round exit. But the scale of this defeat told much about the task they face to sustain the party much further.

5:02PM

Impressive from Lucas

The Arsenal target Torreira put in a dynamic performance in central midfield. Here are his stats:

  • 94.6% pass accuracy
  • 3 interceptions
  • 4 fouls won (joint top)
  • 76 touches (most of any player on the pitch)
Credit: Getty Images

4:59PM

Next up

Uruguay will play Spain or Portugal in Sochi on Saturday night. 

Russia will play one of those three teams in Moscow on Sunday afternoon. 

4:52PM

Full-time - Uruguay 3 Russia 0

Smolov's free-kick is overhit and into Muslera's grateful arms. 

And that is that - the final whistle goes. It finishes Uruguay 3 Russia 0

Uruguay top Group A. 

4:50PM

90+ 4 min Uruguay 3 Russia 0

Uruguay change - Cavani off, Gomez on. 

4:50PM

90+ 3 min Uruguay 3 Russia 0

We're playing four minutes of added on time. 

4:48PM

GOAL!!! Uruguay 3 Russia 0 (Cavani 90 min) 

Godin meets De Arrascaeta's corner with a bullet header that's well saved by Akinfeev. Unfortunately for him, the ball lands at the feet of Cavani, who sweeps home from just a few yards out. 

Cavani does get his goal!

4:47PM

90 min Uruguay 2 Russia 0

Rodriguez with another hammer of a strike from range. Akinfeev does well to tip it over the bar. 

4:46PM

89 min Uruguay 2 Russia 0

Samedov with another stinker of a free-kick that once again flies past everyone for a goal-kick. 

4:45PM

88 min Uruguay 2 Russia 0

Akinfeev claws Torreira’s corner away from right underneath his own crossbar. 

4:44PM

87 min Uruguay 2 Russia 0

The increasingly bedraggled Cavani continues his Revenant-style hunt for a goal, but his latest shot is deflected over. 

Credit: AP

4:43PM

86 min Uruguay 2 Russia 0

Smolov does brilliantly to evade a couple of Uruguayan challenges, but his low centre is well read by Muslera.  

4:42PM

85 min Uruguay 2 Russia 0

From the resulting corner Caceres has a free header plum in front of goal but he completely misses the ball. Uruguay are starting to find space, with their opponents wilting in the early evening heat. 

4:40PM

83 min Uruguay 2 Russia 0

The substitute Rodriguez spanks one from range that Akinfeev beats away a little uncertainly. Kurdjasov is down after being clattered by Suarez as both players looked to pounce on the rebound. 

4:38PM

81 min Uruguay 2 Russia 0

The wait continues for Cavani. He plays in Suarez who then looks to return the favour but overhits his square pass and the chance goes. Suarez probably should have shot there. 

4:36PM

80 min Uruguay 2 Russia 0

Caceres fizzes in a right-wing cross that is just too strong for Cavani. Still Cavani waits for his first goal at this World Cup. 

Credit: REUTERS

4:35PM

77 min Uruguay 2 Russia 0

They haven't had to but Uruguay have created very little this game. Both goals from set pieces, and other than that basically nothing. 

Meanwhile, Arsenal target Lucas Torreira is down clutching his ankle and is receiving treatement. He'll fit right in at the Emirates etc. 

4:31PM

74 min Uruguay 2 Russia 0

Big chance for Russia. Muslera's poor pass is intercepted by Zobin, who works the ball to Dzyuba. He cuts onto his less-favoured left foot and slices an effort high and wide. 

4:30PM

73 min Uruguay 2 Russia 0

Uruguay change at right-back - Rodriguez on for Nandez. 

4:29PM

71 min Uruguay 2 Russia 0

Godin, in that wily way he does, clatters into Dzyuba leading with his elbow then looks around pained as if he's the victim. The VAR takes a look but says no penalty.  The correct call - Godin cleverly just not quite doing enough to be penalised for a foul. 

Credit:  Getty Images 

4:27PM

70 min Uruguay 2 Russia 0

Cavani desperately wants a goal but he's beating the ground in frustration after sending an effort wide from the edge of the box having cut inside a couple of defenders. Cavani is yet to score at this World Cup. 

Sam Matterface meanwhile uses the word "geezer" in commentary. 

4:26PM

68 min Uruguay 2 Russia 0

In Sunday League style Godin catches a clearance on the volley from the halfway line which ends up morphing into a shot that is only a few feet over.  

4:24PM

67 min Uruguay 2 Russia 0

Dzyuba wins an excellent knock-down in the area from Fernandes's cross but again there's no Russian player anywhere near him to pick up the second ball. 

Credit: Getty Images

4:22PM

66 min Uruguay 2 Russia 0

Cavani wants a penalty after going down under Ignashevich's challenge in the box. The VAR, we are told, has a look but says no penalty. It didn't look like a pen to be fair. 

4:20PM

64 min  Uruguay 2 Russia 0

Uruguay's Bentancur picks up a booking for a late tackle, and is swiftly replaced in central midfield by De Arrascaeta. 

4:19PM

62 min Uruguay 2 Russia 0

Zobnin tries to find Dzyuba at the back stick, but his cross is too high and drifts away to safety. 

4:18PM

60 min Uruguay 2 Russia 0

Bentancur gets forward and has a shot blocked before taking out Zobnin with a late challenge. Zobnin gets some treatment but appears to be ok. 

Russia then make their final change - Smolov on for Miranchuk. 

Credit: Getty Images

4:13PM

57 min Uruguay 2 Russia 0

Crazy passage of play sees Nandez doing a Phil Jones and heading the ball along the floor. Russia win the ball back and almost carve out a chance but Miranchuk just overhits his pass meant for Dzyuba. Better from the hosts. 

4:11PM

55 min Uruguay 2 Russia 0

Kuzyaev finds some space down the right but he can't quite dig out a cross, and it's another Uruguay goal-kick. 

4:09PM

53 min Uruguay 2 Russia 0

Russia's best chance of scoring looks to be from set-pieces, so manager Stanislav Cherchesov  is raging at Samedov for looping a free-kick from the right harmlessly beyond everyone for a goal kick. Not ideal. 

4:07PM

51 min Uruguay 2 Russia 0

Uruguay are hoovering up possession. When Russia do occasionally get the ball they're looking long for Dzyuba, who's isolated up front. 

Credit: Getty Images

4:05PM

48 min Uruguay 2 Russia 0

Suarez wins a free kick about 25 yards out, pretty central - just slightly to the right. Cavani takes ... but Dzyuba - standing in the Russia wall - blocks it. 

4:03PM

46 min Uruguay 2 Russia 0

Russia make a change at half-time. Gazinskiy replaced by Kuzyaev. It looks like Russia are set up in a 4-4-1 formation. 

Wew're back under way. 

3:57PM

Uruguay in charge

Hard to see a way back for Russia here. They were struggling enough with 11 men, and if Uruguay are smart they will sap the hosts' remaining energy in the Sweltering Samara heat. 

A Uruguay v Portugal second round looks likely, which could make for a pretty gritty spectacle.  

3:47PM

Half-time Uruguay 2 Russia 0

The half-time whistle goes, with Uruguay two goals and a man to the good.

Credit: AP

3:45PM

45 min Uruguay 2 Russia 0

Two minutes of time to be added on at the end of the first half. 

3:43PM

44 min Uruguay 2 Russia 0

Uruguay stroking the ball around, which must be murder for Russia's 10 men in this 33-degree heat. 

3:40PM

41 min Uruguay 2 Russia 0

That second Uruguay goal has been given as a  Cheryshev OG incidentally. The same Cheryshev who has now been substituted. Not a great day for the lad. 

Igor Smolnikov hangs his head after being sent off Credit: Getty Images

3:39PM

40 min Uruguay 2 Russia 0

Somehow it's hard to see Russia responding to that red card in the same way Germany did against Sweden on Saturday. 

3:38PM

38 min Uruguay 2 Russia 0

Russia are forced to reshuffle and respond with a substitution - top scorer Cheryshev is replaced with the full-back Fernandes. 

3:37PM

37 min Uruguay 2 Russia 0 - red card

Russia are down to 10! Smolnikov deservedly gets a second booking for chopping down Laxalt. It's all going wrong for the hosts. 

3:35PM

35 min Uruguay 2 Russia 0

The game pauses for breath at last after a relentlessly fast-paced first 35 minutes. Dzyuba is penalised for shoving over Torreira, who does brilliantly to nip in front of the Russian striker. 

Uruguay go 2-0 up Credit: Getty Images 

3:32PM

32 min Uruguay 2 Russia 0

Russia win a free-kick in a dangerous area down the right, but Samedov's cross is overhit and evades everyone. 

3:31PM

30 min Uruguay 2 Russia 0

Suarez nearly gets through, but the 38-year-old Ignashevich does really well to hold him off. Akinfeev can sweep up behind and clear the danger. 

3:29PM

29 min Uruguay 2 Russia 0

Uruguay should make it three and completely kill the game, but Bentancur is denied by Akinfeev when clean through on goal. I was screaming at my screen, telling Bentancur to try and dink it. Instead he went for the nutmeg and Akinfeev made the block. Moments earlier Smolnikov is booked for fouling Vecino. 

Russia all over the place. 

3:26PM

26 min Uruguay 2 Russia 0

What have Russia got in response here? As it stands, Uruguay will top Group A. Laxalt's goal came from Russia failing to clear Torreira's corner so both of Uruguay's goals have come from free-kicks. 

3:25PM

GOAL! Uruguay 2 Russia 0 (Cheryshev own goal 23 min)

Laxalt's effort from about 25 yards out takes a huge deflection off Cheryshev and nestles in the corner. That will surely be given as an own goal. 

3:20PM

20 min Uruguay 1 Russia 0

More pressure from Russia, but the referee Malang Diedhiou awards a goal-kick with Cheryshev asking for a corner. 

3:17PM

17 min Uruguay 1 Russia 0

Another chance for Russia, but Dzyuba puts his header over from about six yards out. 

Uruguay top the group as it stands; a Russia goal would put them top. 

3:14PM

14 min Uruguay 1 Russia 0

Uruguay supporters now in fine voice after what's been a really entertaining start to the game.  

3:13PM

13 min Uruguay 1 Russia 0

Cheryshev so nearly gets his fourth goal of the tournament, but his edge of the box volley - from Dzyuba's knock down - is straight at Muslera. 

3:11PM

12 min Uruguay 1 Russia 0

Really weird mistake from Ignashevich who was blocking the near post but then moves to behind the wall, which allows Suarez to find the inch he needs to thread the ball through. 

Luis Suarez puts Uruguay 1-0 up with this free-kick 

3:10PM

GOAL!!!!  Uruguay 1 Russia 0 (Suarez 10 min)

Suarez nails the free-kick, slotting it perfectly into the far post, and Uruguay lead. 

3:09PM

10 min Uruguay 0 Russia 0

Gazinskiy deservedly booked for chopping down Vecino just outside the Russia box. Very central position for this free-kick about 20 yards out...

3:08PM

9 min Uruguay 0 Russia 0

Uruguay give the ball away cheaply around half-way. Dzyuba pounces on the loose ball and leads a counter that ends with a Cheryshev cross well blocked. 

3:06PM

7 min Uruguay 0 Russia 0

Frenetic early pace despite the sweltering heat. Uruguay seeing more of the ball. 

3:04PM

4 min Uruguay 0 Russia 0

The noise is deafening in Samara. The joyous atmosphere is such a contrast from the anxiety that surrounded the Russian team before their opening game. 

3:02PM

2 min Uruguay 0 Russia 0

Hmm, after all the pre-match talk about playing a back five, it looks like Uruguay are set up in a 4-4-2. Either way, Vecino gets a shot off from range that flies wide of Akinfeev's near post. 

3:00PM

Kick-off

Russia get us under way in what is 33-degree heat! 

A reminder of the teams:

Uruguay (3-5-2): Muslera; Coates, Godin, Caceres; Laxalt, Nandez, Torreira, Bentancur, Vecino; Suarez, Cavani.

Russia (4-5-1): Akinfeev; Smolnikov, Kutepov, Ignashevich, Kurdjasov; Samedov, Gazinskiy, Miranchuk, Zobnin, Cheryshev; Dzyuba.

Referee: Malang Diedhiou (Senegal).

2:58PM

Rousing anthems

The pre-match formalities are over. We'll be under way very shortly. 

2:54PM

National anthem time

It's a packed house in Samara, and the national anthems begin with Uruguay...

2:37PM

Torreira watch

Prior to the start of the World Cup, Daniel Zeqiri produced a dossier on Arsenal target and Uruguay midfielder Lucas Torreira

After sitting on the bench for Uruguay's first two matches, Torreira starts today. 

Credit: AFP

2:20PM

Russia sticking with winning formula

Stanislav Cherchesov has made just three changes - replacing full-backs Mario Fernandes and Yuri Zhirkov with Igor Smolnikov and Fedor Kudriashov, and bringing in attacking midfielder Aleksey Miranchuk for the rested Aleksandr Golovin. 

It's likely to be Spain or Portugal in the last 16 remember. 

2:13PM

Change of system

Oscar Tabarez has abandoned the 4-4-2 diamond formation and gone for a 3-5-3, presumably to solve Uruguay's lack of width in their first two matches. It should also - in theory - help get the best out of Suarez and Cavani. 

Uruguay's Luis Suarez and Uruguay's Martin Caceres arrive to Uruguay's official training on the eve of the group A match between Russia and Uruguay at the 2018 soccer World Cup at the Samara Arena in Samara, Russia, Sunday, June 24, 2018 Credit: AP

2:06PM

What it means

So, the Arsenal central midfield target Lucas Torreira starts his first game at the World Cup for Uruguay, while the injured Jose Gimenez is replaced at centre-back by former Liverpool defender Sebastian Coates. 

For Russia, Golovin is on the bench and Dzagoev is still out injured. 

1:51PM

The teams are in

Russia (4-5-1): Akinfeev; Smolnikov, Kutepov, Ignashevich, Kurdjasov; Samedov, Gazinskiy, Miranchuk, Zobnin, Cheryshev; Dzyuba.

Uruguay (3-5-2): Muslera; Coates, Godin, Caceres; Laxalt, Nandez, Torreira, Bentancur, Vecino; Suarez, Cavani.

1:48PM

Who's winning today?

Allow our predictor tool to reveal all...

1:29PM

Decider

After both beginning the World Cup with consecutive victories, Uruguay and Russia meet this afternoon to decide who will top Group A. 

Russia's vastly superior goal difference (8-1 compared to Uruguay's 2-0) means the hosts only need to draw today to top the group. Doing so is of course the aim for both sides, but the group winners could end up with the unenviable task of playing Spain depending on the results of tonight's Group B matches. 

Much of the pre-match focus of this game has been on whether we should be suspicious of Russia's stunning start to the competition. When questioned by The Telegraph about why Russia (along with other nations, including England) had not disclosed how many players had undergone drugs tests at the tournament, their manager Stanislav Cherchesov said on Sunday: “Is this a question about the match or philosophy? I am not a doctor. We are talking about the match here.”

Cherchesov also bristled at the implications of reporters pointing out that Russia had covered far more distance than any other team in their first two matches in the tournament. “Those who know what physiology is, we went through the Confederations Cup, we did our preparations for that and the condition of the national team then was very good, ” he said.

Credit: Getty Images

"Of course, we introduced some corrections and adjustments, we addressed our problems, and that’s why the team looks even better than during the Confederations Cup.” 

Uruguay meanwhile have been more pre-occupied in the lead up to today with two pretty average performances in their first two matches, despite winning both games. Their 71-year-old manager Oscar Tabarez has urged his team to draw on the example of the 2011 Copa America when Uruguay started slowly but ended up winning the competition. 

“We are aware that there is pressure there and we also believe that in our prior performances, we haven't fully lived up to our potential,' he told reporters on Sunday.

“But we face that with calmness. We have had these situations before. In the Copa America in 2011, it was a similar situation, there were matches where we were far from brilliant.”

The match gets under way at 3pm in the southwestern city of Samara.