Luis Suarez celebrated his 100th international appearance with a goal in the 23rd minute as Uruguay clinched a spot in the knockout round of the World Cup with a workmanlike 1-0 victory Wednesday over Saudi Arabia in Group A in Rostov-on-Don.
The win also pushed host Russia into the round of 16 as the two sides have claimed the maximum six points from the first two matches while leaving Egypt and the Green Falcons with no points. The two-time champions La Celeste will square off with Russia on Monday in Samara needing a win to finish atop the group since the Sbornaya have a superior goal difference.
It may have been one of the easiest of Suarez’s 52 international goals as he was completely unmarked at the six-yard box while side-footing a corner kick from Carlos Sanchez. Otherwise it was another uneven performance offensively for La Celeste, who misfired at times in the final third for the second straight game while obtaining another 1-0 scoreline.
While Saudi Arabia cleared the low bar of improving on its performance from an embarrassing 5-0 loss to Russia to start the World Cup on Thursday, it was not enough to prevent extending its winless stretch in football’s biggest tournament to 12 matches (0-2-10) since beating Belgium to close group play in 1994 to reach the round of 16.
Both teams had to deal with hot and humid conditions at Rostov Arena, with Saudi Arabia claiming the first scoring chance with a free kick 25 yards from goal. Mohammed Al-Burayk, however, crashed his attempt into the wall.
Uruguay began to assert itself, with Suarez going wide from a tight angle and controlling play. On the corner that led to Suarez’s goal, Saudi Arabia keeper Mohamed Al-Owais flapped at the ball, which allowed the Barcelona man the half-second to step away from Taisser Al-Jassam and calmly slot home.
The Green Falcons tried to find a quick equalizer, but Fernando Muslera tipped a left-footed effort from Hattan Bahbir over the bar. Bahbir got a second chance when Uruguay defender Diego Godin made a rare mistake that allowed the ball to fall to him in the penalty area, but he went high with his attempt.
Al-Jassam was forced off shortly before halftime due to a hamstring injury, with Juan Antonio Pizzi introducing Hussain Al-Moaqhwi. After intermission, Suarez had a chance to double Uruguay’s lead with a free kick from 25 yards, but his right-footed effort was well punched away by Al-Owais.
Content to sit deep, Uruguay ceded possession to Saudi Arabia, which could not create much in the way of quality chances. La Celeste nearly struck on the counter on 62 minutes, but Sanchez placed a header on a superb cross from Cavani well over the bar from 10 yards on the right.
The heat took its toll on both sides as the pace slowed. Cavani created a half-chance out of nothing in the 85th minute when he stole the ball from Osama Hawasawi, but Al-Owais sensed the danger early and closed down the PSG forward before he could get anything on his shot.
The Green Falcons had one last chance in the 90th minute on a corner, but Mohammed Kano failed to get much power on a header from 12 yards that Muslera comfortably caught.