‘Slow burner’ would be the diplomatic way to describe the ninety minutes of arduous work, huffing and puffing before Uruguay’s quality eventually showed in the closing moments as they beat Egypt 1-0 in Group A of the 2018 World Cup.
Truth be told, the South Americans never found their rhythm, leaving it to Jose Maria Gimenez to save their blushes. He rose high to meet a Carlos Sanchez free-kick in the 89th minute, kickstarting their campaign.
The moments of quality where fleeting, the best coming in the dying embers of the game when Edinson Cavani twice threatened the break the Egyptian hearts – first with a wicked volley from the edge of penalty area which required a marvellous save from Mohamed El-Shenawy, and shortly after with a powerful free-kick from similar range which rattled the post.
Moments after it would be heartbreak for the North African outfit when Gimenez finally broke down their resistance.
Mohamed Salah was deemed fit, but only fit enough for the bench – that did not stop the Egyptian supporters going wild whenever his face adorned the big screen.
While the current Liverpool goal machine sat on the bench, the former one toiled on the pitch. Luis Suarez looked out of sorts in, missing a golden opportunity from two yards out, his first touch eluding him, and his often-relentless energy found wanting.
La Celeste were slow and predictable for most of the first half, if they are to live up to the tag of ‘dark horses’ for the tournament they will have to elevate their performance for when they take on Saudi Arabia in Rostov next Wednesday, that should not be difficult given the Saudi’s performance against the host nation on Thursday.
Captain Diego Godin represented the 14th ranked nation’s best attacking threat for much of the game with his lung-bursting runs from defence into midfield. Frustration etched on his face as his country laboured.
Suarez’s day went from bad to worse, he spurned multiple chances and even engaged in his trademark playacting in the final seconds. El-Shenawy twice denied the Barcelona forward, first with a smart save immediately after half-time, and later when the Al Ahly goalkeeper smothered a fifty-fifty ball when the Uruguay all-time top goal scorer had taken one touch too many.
The Central Stadium was far from its maximum capacity with large sections of the venue sporting nothing but empty orange seats. However with the average price of the a ticket being 24,966 Russian Rubles (£300), over half of the average Russian monthly salary, you could hardly blame any locals for failing to turn out en masse. Still, the core of Egypt fans which had turned out created a hostile atmosphere, the chants turned to uncontrollable screeches whenever their hero, Salah, was on screen.
The African side had their moments, too, moments that made one wonder if the outcome would have been different if the Premier League golden boot winner was on the field. Mohamed Elneny shot over while Trezeguet was a constant thorn in the Uruguayan side but could not produce the final ball to genuine bother.
For now, only the win matters. But Oscar Tabarez will want to address the sluggish 80 minutes and get his side coming out of the gate quicker if they are to progress deep into the tournament.