As expected in Group A, this fixture would decide who finishes top of the group. Despite both teams already securing their spot in the knockout stages, the triumphant team would, as a result, most likely avoid a second round tie against the mighty Spanish. A flurry of changes for both La Celeste (The Sky Blue) and Золотые Орлы (The Golden Eagles) meant there were lots of new faces looking to impress on a sunny afternoon at the Samara Arena. Young Lokomotiv forward Aleksei Miranchuk was given his chance up front for Russia, and Uruguay’s Lucas Torreira was also given his first World Cup start – the 22-year-old is widely expected to join Arsenal from Sampdoria for £26m after the tournament. A lively end-to-end start resulted in the opening goal coming after just 9 minutes – Yuri Gazinskiy’s clumsy challenge from behind on Rodrigo Bentancur gifted a free-kick on the edge of the box to Uruguay. Luis Suárez stepped up and emphatically drove the ball hard and low past Igor Akinfeev in the Russia goal. The goalkeeper will be disappointed conceding on the same side as his positioning – you have to save those in a World Cup tournament. Russia nearly levelled the contest immediately as a lovely ball into the box from Miranchuk found Denis Cheryshev, the tournament’s surprise package so far, but he could only fire straight at Muslera. The Russians rued that missed chance as midway through the first half a Uruguayan corner was only half-cleared to Diego Laxalt. The Genoa man connected poorly with his shot at goal but thanks to a huge deflection off the unfortunate Cheryshev, Igor Akifneev was wrong-footed and the shot looped into the corner of the Russian net. Óscar Tabárez and his staff were delighted in the dugout, a pleasing sight. His side was well on top in the first half thanks to an effective press across the midfield and some aggressive forward play down the Russian flanks. It went from bad to worse for the hosts of the tournament, however, as two rash challenges from Igor Smolnikov minutes apart saw the Zenit Saint Petersburg defender given his marching orders quite rightly. A shell-shocked Stanislav Cherchesov went into the tunnel at the break with a damage limitation problem on his hands!
The game was effectively over as a contest after the break. The Uruguayans were happy to recycle the ball and see out the match, whilst the Russians struggled to play their way back into the game with only 10 men. Diego Godín was phenomenal as the cornerstone for Tabárez’s team who were determined to give nothing away at the back. The introduction of Krasnodar’s skilful forward Fyodor Smolov gave Russia a bit more of a direct threat for the final period of the game, and it was his mazy run that produced the best chance for Russia to pull a goal back. Muslera wasn’t in the mood to concede, however, and spoiled the Russian’s cross as Dzyuba lurked dangerously. The only sour note for Uruguay so far in the tournament has been the lack of reward for the hard-working Edinson Cavani. That was quickly dismissed minutes from the end – Godin thundering a bullet header from Torreira’s corner towards goal, Akinfeev did well to parry the ball away but the PSG forward was on hand to sweep the ball past the Russian stopper to claim his much-deserved first goal of the finals.
Three wins, three clean sheets, a perfect start for Uruguay. The Russian party has been rocked, however they still progress and managed to rest key players for what will be the country’s most important game in decades as either Spain or Portugal await in the first knockout round.
Man of the Match: Diego Godín (URU)
Best: Diego Godín, Rodrigo Bentancur, Lucas Torreira, Edinson Cavani (URU), Daler Kuzyayev, Artem Dzyuba, Sergei Ignashevich (RUS)