Uruguay’s patience and perseverance paid off as it struck thrice to silence Russia, but not the boisterous home crowd at the Samara Arena. The home team’s loss did little to deter the troops on the stands as they cheered on their team, which has already exceeded expectations to reach the knockout stage.
Russia’s defensive frailties, though overlooked by the fans, will be a cause of concern for coach Stanislav Cherchesov as the team heads to the round-of-16. The defence was guilty of offering too much width particularly to Diego Laxalt, who was often joined by Rodrigo Bentacur, on the left wing.
Uruguay’s early lead came in the 10 minute when Luis Suarez, showing a great presence of mind, drilled a free-kick low and hard through a breach in the wall, after Edinson Cavani had dragged his marker Segey Iganashevich wide with his intelligent movement.
Denis Cheryshev, the Russian hero this World Cup, led the charge for the equaliser as he ran tirelessly down the left flank – covering 4.13 kms during his short stay. His measured crosses won a few corners but the experienced three-man Uruguayan backline – ably shepherded by Diego Godin and Sebastian Coates – had little difficulty to deal with them. The visitors looked unhurried, soaking in the pressure, but ready to hit the Russians on the counter, utilising their pace to unshackle the slow home defence.
Cherchesov’s men fell further back after a fortuitous strike from Laxalt changed course following a deflection off Cheryshev’s heal, leaving goalkeeper Igor Afinkeev wrong footed in the 27th minute. Russia’s problems soon worsened as Igor Smolnikov was ejected for a second bookable offence in the 37th minute.
With an eye on the next game, Cheryshev – easily Russia’s best player on the pitch – was soon replaced by defender Mario Fernandes, who did offer some stability to the besieged defence.
The introduction of Fedor Smolov and Daler Kuzaiev early in the second session improved Russia’s organisational play as Uruguay looked at peace to play the waiting game. Taking advantage of the high pressing of the opponents, Uruguay almost extended its lead in the 80 minute when Cavani and Suarez raced forward with only one defender to deal with them. The Paris Saint Germain forward’s square pass, however, was just out of Suarez’s grasp and the stadium breathed a sigh of relief.
As the clock ticked closer to the 90 minute, Uruguay exerted more pressure with substitute Cristhian Rodriguez testing Afinkeev with some powerful long-range efforts from the left. A resultant corner from one such strike brought the third goal as Cavani was close at hand to nod in after the goalkeeper had done well to keep out a glancing header from Godin.
The final whistle came soon, bringing an end to Russia’s misery. The result truly reflected the gap between the two sides and Uruguay, yet to concede a goal in this World Cup, will prove to be a tough proposition to whomever it faces in the next round.