Jose Gimenez’s header in the 89th minute made all the difference as Uruguay fought off a determined Egypt side 1-0 on Friday in Ekaterinburg.
Moments after Edinson Cavani cannoned a free kick off the woodwork, Gimenez rose highest to meet a cross on a free kick whipped in from the right by Carlos Sanchez. The Atletico Madrid central defender put it inside the right post where Egypt keeper Mohamed Elshenawy had no chance to stop it.
The victory moved La Celeste into second place in Group A with three points as they trail host Russia on goal difference. Egypt, which did not play star striker Mohamed Salah as he is still not 100 percent from a shoulder injury suffered in the Champions League final playing for Liverpool last month, are third in the group but comfortably ahead of Saudi Arabia on goal difference.
Well-drilled and compact in defense, Egypt was content to cede possession to Uruguay and look for opportunities on the counter. La Celeste consistently tried to find Cavani and Luis Suarez, with the former stopped early on a long-distance shot by Elshenawy and the latter dragging a shot from close range wide of the near post just before the half-hour.
Uruguay picked up its pace at the outset of the second half, with Suarez denied early by Elshenawy after being sent through by Suarez. The Pharaohs were forced into their first change when midfielder Tarek Hamed was forced off with a back injury following a collision with Giorgian De Arrasceta.
That seemed to spark Egypt, which took the play to La Celeste for a spell. Defender Ahmed Fathi tested keeper Fernando Muslera with a shot from distance, and Elshenawy again thwarted Suarez, coming off his line to prevent the Barcelona star from getting a shot off.
By the 79th minute, it was confirmed Salah would not play when Hector Cuper used his third and final substitution to introduce Ramadan Sobhi. Egypt, however, was beginning to tire as it needed a one-handed save from Elshenawy on a volley from 15 yards by Cavani seven minutes from time.
The breakthrough finally came via Gimenez as Uruguay won its opening group match for the first time since 1970 and spoiled Salah’s 26th birthday.