A cold yet sunny afternoon in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg saw a much lauded Uruguayan team fail to spark against a well-organised, opportunistic Egyptian side in the second game of the tournament. The Pharaohs, without superstar Mo Salah who was on the bench as a spectator only, started the brighter of the teams by being first to every ball and winning every 1-on-1 battle across the pitch. The busy Tarek Hamed exemplified this, expertly organising an effective press straight from coach Héctor Cúper’s tactics book. Both compact and energetic without the ball and efficient and tidy with it, the north Africans caused the Uruguayans problems through the skilful Trézéguet and Greek football player of the year Amr Warda. By comparison, La Celeste were lethargic and too casual on the ball. Betancur disappointed and Vecino played far too deep. Luis Suárez wasted the best chance of the half, sweeping the ball wide from 6 yards after a deep corner. Egypt went into half time much the happier of the two teams but in truth the game lacked any cutting edge.
It was much the same after the break with Egypt growing in confidence as space began to open up on the counter attack. They suffered a big blow losing the hard-working Hamed to injury but created a decent chance through captain Ahmed Fathy moments later. Al Ahly stopper Mohamed El-Shenawy bravely kept out another Suárez shot down at his feet as the Uruguayans upped the tempo after the introduction of both Carlos Sanchez and Cristian Rodriguez midway through the second half. As the match entered the last 15 minutes it suddenly felt like a knockout game as both teams looked to exploit on the counter and started to push more men forward. The lively Kahraba (actual meaning “electricity”) was introduced and immediately threatened Godin with his pace and endeavour, while PSG forward Edinson Cavani rifled a volley heading for the top corner only for El-Shenawy to pull off a fabulous one-handed stop. Moments later Cavani curled a sublime free-kick over the Egyptian wall only to be foiled by the upright. Suddenly it was time for the Egyptians to desperately hold on for the point their performance so richly deserved. But, as we have all experienced, football is a cruel game. A silly free kick given away by Mohamed Abdel Shafy allowed Carlos Sánchez to float a ball across the box for Atlético Madrid’s José Giménez to head past the despairing El-Shenawy. The entire Uruguayan bench rushes for the corner to celebrate with the goalscorer as Óscar Tabárez reaches for his cane to emerge delighted from the dugout.
Bitterly disappointing for Héctor Cúper, but he will point to the positives for his side who still have two very winnable games against Russia and Saudi Arabia to come. Uruguay will feel relieved and the world will expect more if they are to live up to expectations in this tournament.
Man of the Match: Mohamed El Shenawy (EGY)
Best: Mohamed El Shenawy, Ahmed Fathy, Ahmed Hegazi, Trézéguet, Amr Warda (all EGY), Diego Godín, José María Giménez, Edinson Cavani (URU)