Egypt’s gamble to leave Mohamed Salah on the bench for their World Cup opener almost worked. For 89 minutes at Ekaterinburg Arena, the Pharaohs, with the help of a few big missed chances by Luis Suarez, kept Uruguay off the scoresheet.
But just when the Group A game seemed destined to end in a stalemate, defender Jose Gimenez rose above Egypt’s back line to head home the winner and set up an intriguing match between Egypt and host Russia next week.
What’s up with Suarez?
The Barcelona forward is Uruguay’s all-time top scorer and has been its main attacking threat for the last two World Cup cycles. Suarez returned from knee surgery to score twice against England four years ago in Brazil, helping his country advance to the second round before biting Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini in the final group stage match and getting suspended for the rest of the tournament. There was no doubting his quality, though.
Suarez looked a shadow of that player in his Russia 2018 debut, and not just because he kept his teeth to himself.
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 15, 2018
Suarez missed a sitter midway through the first half, then squandered two more glorious opportunities in the second. As the game went on, his teammates stopped trying to attack solely though Suarez; Edinson Cavani came close twice, including a rocket off the post from a free kick. The game’s only goal would come off another set piece, with Gimenez getting on the end of Carlos Sanchez’s free kick.
Oh, and there was also this memorable moment as Uruguay was trying to close out the match.
I believe Luis Suarez completed the process of the dive here pic.twitter.com/JMnHtOz4Ai
— Nick Bromberg (@NickBromberg) June 15, 2018
How hurt is Salah?
It’s easy to understand why Egypt manager Hector Cuper didn’t want to risk his star man. Liverpool forward Salah injured his left shoulder less than three weeks ago, in the Reds Champions League final loss to Real Madrid. On Thursday, Cuper said that Salah was fit enough to come off the bench and probably would. But Egypt defended like their hair was on fire, and with the match still scoreless with less then 10 minutes to play, the Argentine coach brought on forward Ramadan Sobhy as his third and final substitute.
Was Cuper’s plan always to save Salah for Tuesday’s contest against Russia in St. Petersburg? With Uruguay the undisputed group favorites, that tilt was probably always going to determine which team would join the Los Charruas in the knockout stage.
Still, one has to wonder now how healthy Salah really is. If he wasn’t even able to made a cameo off the bench on his 26th birthday, how effective can Salah realistically be against a Russian side that will no doubt body him up at every opportunity.
It would be a shame if the Premier League’s best player and Ballon d’Or dark horse Salah can’t go. Either way, it’s hard to see him being anywhere near his best.
Group A is definitely up for grabs
It was hardly a convincing Uruguayan performance despite the win. And it makes you wonder if Russia, which trounced hapless Saudi Arabia in Thursday’s World Cup opener, might just be able to ride their momentum and home field advantage into a first place finish. Russia-Uruguay on Matchday 3 could determine who tops the group.
Meantime, the heartbroken Egyptians will have to forget about Friday quickly. One only had to look at Salah’s reaction to Gimenez’s strike to know that the loss cut deep. With a point seemingly in the bag he’d been all smiles just minutes before.
Will he play against Russia in what just became a must-win for Egypt? Even if he’s far from 100 percent, it’s another bet Cuper will probably have to take.
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