FIFA World Cup 2018: Jose Gimenez helps Uruguay escape to victory over Egypt
It was supposed to be Mohamed Salah’s grand World Cup entry as his Egypt side took on Uruguay in their campaign-opener at the Ekaterinburg Arena, nearly 1800 km from here on Friday. (HIGHLIGHTS)
Instead, Atletico Madrid defender Jose Gimenez stole the show with a late header to seal a 1-0 win for the two-time world champions that will leave Egypt ruing a rare blip really late in the game.
In a game of few chances, both the teams began cautiously. Salah, who coach Hector Cuper had indicated would play the game, remained on the bench throughout.
When the cameras zoomed into Salah on Egypt’s bench and it appeared on the giant screen at the stadium, his fans roared wildly from the stands. Salah responded with a smile.
Egypt, compact at the back, had little trouble in snuffing out the Uruguayan attack as supporters of the South American nation were hushed into silence in the opening minutes.
When Luis Suarez hit the side-netting with his shot in the 25th minute, Uruguayan fans started celebrations in the stands, only to realise a moment later that the ball hadn’t gone in.
The frustration on Oscar Tabarez’s face was apparent as he became more and more animated on the touchline as the minutes passed.
The supply line to Uruguay’s attack was cut off by Egypt’s tight, narrow formation and every time Rodrigo Bentancur got the ball, he was immediately closed down.
At one point, just a few minutes before half time, Edinson Cavani was seen hovering near his own team’s defence in search of the ball; such was the quality of service to him.
Uruguay began the second half on a better note.
Less than a minute into the half, Cavani, who had momentarily dropped down to midfield put forth an appetizing pass to Suarez.
Through on goal but with Egypt custodian Mohamed El-Shenawy rushing out, Suarez’s shot had both pace and accuracy. An outstretched El-Shenawy, however, had already anticipated the shot and met it with a fine save.
For the next few minutes, Egypt had more of the ball. The seven-time African champions though couldn’t make much of the possession as Uruguay comfortably dealt with a couple of raids.
On the hour mark, Tabarez took off Giorgian de Arrascaeta and brought on Cristian Rodriguez. He also replaced Nahitan Nandez with Carlos Sanchez. It was an injection of pace into the side that did little to disturb Egypt’s organised showing at the back.
Calls for Salah grew from the stands but Cuper remained unperturbed. Egypt had been in control so far and the Argentine tactician decided to keep his formation in tact instead of bringing his star forward in.
In the 72nd minute, an Egypt counter-attack ended up with Ahmed Fathy attempting a long-ranger from 20 yards out. It was comfortably caught by Fernando Muslera in Uruguay’s goal.
A minute later, Suarez was through on goal again, and once again an alert El-Shenawy rushed out of his goal to deny the Barcelona forward.
It seemed like Uruguay had played all their cards as frustration grew in their ranks. There was little penetration and chances were at a premium.
Then in the 83rd minute, Cavani let fly from distance. His shot was met with an acrobatic shot by El-Shenawy.
The game suddenly changed after Cavani’s attempt. The Egyptian backline, which had been so composed so far, suddenly looked shaken.
A couple of minutes later, Diego Godin attempted a header that lacked power to threaten the Egyptian goal.
A further three minutes down the line, Cavani was brought down outside the box. His subsequent effort hit the upright but a few seconds later, Uruguay won a free-kick away near the corner on the right flank.
This time, a pinpoint delivery from Sanchez was met with a firm header by Gimenez. Egyptian hearts sank as the Uruguayan contingent celebrated wildly, more out of relief than joy.
As if to rub it in, the cameras pointed towards Salah again. This time, he wasn’t smiling. His side will now have everything to do again when they face Russia in Saint-Petersburg on Tuesday.