Luis Suarez marked his 100th international with a winning goal as Uruguay defeated Saudi Arabia 1-0 in a Group A clash to enter the pre-quarterfinals of the FIFA World Cup.
Suarez’s 23rd-minute strike from close range decided the match as Saudi Arabia lost their second consecutive loss and joined Egypt in getting eliminated. Following the win, Uruguay and hosts Russia have entered the second round from the Group A.
Uruguay and Saudi Arabia had contrasting fortunes in their opening matches. While Uruguay defeated Egypt 1-0, the Asian outfit suffered a morale-shattering 0-5 defeat to hosts Russia.
For Saudi Arabia, the match at the Rostov Arena here was their first in World Cup history against a South American side. And they put up an improved performance, though having to bear another loss.
The match had a barren first 20 minutes, lacking real intensity and potential scoring chances but the South Americans clearly showed that they are here to dominate.
Uruguay got ahead in the 23rd minute. Goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais came off his line, stretched out an arm to punch clear a corner from Carlos Sanchez from the left and missed it completely. It dropped kindly for FC Barcelona striker Suarez at the far post and he made no mistake with a left-foot tap-in as he scored his 52nd international goal.
After the goal, the match intensified with both teams, especially Saudi Arabia showing good football, at both ends.
Three minutes after conceding the lead, Hattan Bahbir cut in from the right and shot with his left foot, forcing Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera to tip over his own cross-bar.
Couple of minutes later, Bahbir again got an opportunity to pull the Saudis level. Uruguay defender Diego Godin misjudged the flight of a cross from the left and the ball dropped for Bahbir, whose stab inside the Uruguay penalty area sent the ball over the cross-bar.
Bahbir continued to impress but his finishing and those of his teammates, lacked precision as Uruguay held a 1-0 lead at half-time.
After the break, Uruguay went about their business of controlling play, with their players keeping the ball possession and ping the ball about in midfield before getting forward, even as Saudi Arabia lacked the firepower. The Uruguayan midfield trio of Rodrigo Bentancur, Sanchez and Matias Vecino dominated.
Uruguay head coach Oscar Tabarez felt that the pace of the game was slowing down and decided to infuse fresh energy in the form of midfielder Lucas Torreira and left-back Diego Laxalt, who substituted for Vecino and Cristian Rodriguez respectively.
The first chance in the second half fell to Uruguay in the 62nd minute when Martin Cacares played a long ball from way behind for Edinson Cavani, who floated in a cross towards Carlos Sanchez at the far post. The header from Sanchez, however, sailed high over the cross-bar.
Later, Saudi Arabia showed some desperation but they lacked that final pass to make a decisive move inside the Uruguay box. Inexperience was clearly visible from the way the Saudis played. And the equaliser didn’t arrive, sending Uruguay to the Round-of-16.