After losing 5-0 to Russia in the opening game of the World Cup (WC) finals, Saudi Arabia face a Uruguayan side who beat Egypt 1-0 courtesy of a 90th minute winner.
Uruguay’s win over Egypt was a typically tight opening round game, with limited chances as neither side wanted to lose. Saudi Arabia, however, looked completely out of their depth against hosts Russia.
That loss for the Saudis was the worst opening-game loss since Mexico’s 5-0 loss to Brazil in 1950, with only the USA’s 7-1 defeat to Italy in 1934 being heavier.
While the Saudis have little to no chance of qualifying for the next stage, a win for two-time WC winners (1930, 1950) Uruguay will almost certainly secure their place in the last 16.
The South American’s are on a good run at present of four-straight wins to nil, and only one defeat in their last ten (W6, D3, L1). Saudi Arabia’s latest loss was conversely their fourth-straight defeat, all four of which saw them losing at half-time.
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URUGUAY VS SAUDIA ARABIA
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The two sides have only ever met twice before with a 1-1 draw in 2014 and a 3-2 home win for the Saudis in 2002.
Players to watch: Saudi ‘keeper Abdullah Al Muaiouf could be a busy man and needs to watch Uruguay defender José Giménez at set pieces, after he scored two great headers in the last two games.
Stat attack: In their last 11 games at WC finals, Uruguay have failed to score just once.
The last eleven Saudi Arabia games have all produced over 1.5 goals.
The Saudis have failed to score in their last three WC tournament games and six of their last seven.
This will be Saudi Arabia’s 15th game (W2, D2, L10) at a finals and the first against South American opposition.
This will also be Uruguay’s first ever finals game against a team from the AFC region.
Uruguay vs. Saudi Arabia
Group A, Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don
This, really, isn’t what Saudi Arabia needed. After giving up five goals in its loss to Russia, the lowest-ranked World Cup team, next up for the Saudis is Uruguay, a South American power with stars Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. And, as if that weren’t enough, Uruguay figures to be testy after squeaking past Egypt, 1-0, on a late goal, after Suarez missed on three chances.
There is a bright spot, though. The second-lowest ranked World Cup team, Saudi Arabia has never lost to Uruguay, winning a friendly in 2002 and playing to a draw in a 2014 friendly.
“We need to keep a cool head,” defender Jose Gimenez, who scored in the 89th minute against Egypt, told reporters (via Reuters). “We know that any game here is very hard, and we need to think of it that way.”
If you’re going to wager on this year’s Golden Boot winner (and want someone other than Cristiano Ronaldo in a desperate attempt to throw your money away at this point), Suarez might be a good place to park your money. That’s assuming he picks up the pace and fares better than he did in 2014 in Brazil, where he was barred from the tournament after biting an opponent, or in 2010 in South Africa, where he was crushed for drawing a red card in a victory.
Uruguay (1-0-0, 3 points)
- Last World Cup showing: Round of 16, 2014.
- Best finish: Champion, 1930 and 1950.
- Notable: Uruguay hopes to reach the knockout round for the third straight time. It finished in fourth place eight years ago in South Africa.
- FIFA world ranking: 14. ELO world ranking: 11.
Saudi Arabia (0-0-1, 0 points)
- Last World Cup showing: Group stage, 2006.
- Best finish: Round of 16, 1994.
- Notable: In three World Cup appearances since making the knockout round in its 1994 World Cup debut, Saudi Arabia has failed to win a game and has finished 28th, 32nd and 28th. That ugly trend continued with a 5-0 loss to Russia in the opener; the Green Falcons have now been outscored, 31-4, over that span.
- FIFA world ranking: 67. ELO world ranking: 68.
Uruguay have no injury concerns but could make changes to the side that beat Egypt 1-0.
Winger Carlos Sanchez is tipped to start on the right, while the experienced Cristian Rodriguez could get the nod on the left wing after Giorgian De Arrascaeta failed to impress.
Saudi Arabia head coach Juan Antonio Pizzi could drop a number of players, with goalkeeper Abdullah Al Mayouf likely to replace Mohammed Al Owais.
Elsewhere, he may be tempted to start with Muhannad Assiri in the lone forward role in place of the ineffective Mohammed Al Sahlawi.
It may seem odd to talk about a potential managerial sacking just one game into a major tournament, but Saudi Arabia head coach Juan Antonio Pizzi may need a result in this match to keep his job. Pizzi described a “feeling of shame” after his side were thumped 5-0 by Russia on the opening day, and another inept performance here could see him removed from his position on Thursday morning.
Uruguay have no such managerial issues, with the 71-year-old Oscar Tabarez in his 12th year and second spell as boss. This game will be his 17th World Cup match and the wise old coach won’t have been that impressed with how his side played in their opening game, with La Celeste needing a late header from centre-back Jose Gimenez to snatch the points.
Uruguay will kick off knowing that a win will send them through to the knockout stage at a third consecutive World Cup. The South American side have never failed to get out of the group stage under Tabarez and it looks safe to assume that he’ll repeat that feat here. Defeat for Saudi Arabia would confirm their elimination.
- Saudi Arabia and Uruguay have never met at the World Cup.
- However, the Green Falcons are undefeated in their two previous games with Uruguay (W1, D1), both home friendlies.
- Uruguay could win their opening two matches of a World Cup for the first time since 1954.
- They have lost just one of their last nine World Cup group games (W5, D3), winning five of their last six.
- The Uruguayans have also won all three of their previous World Cup games against Asian opponents, scoring five and conceding just once.
- The last time they won their opening group game, a 2-0 victory over Israel in 1970, they went on to reach the semi-finals.
- Luis Suarez is set to win his 100th cap in this game. He’ll be the sixth Uruguayan to reach that milestone.
- This is Saudi Arabia’s 15th game at a World Cup but the first time they have ever faced South American opposition.
- The Saudis are on an 11-game winless run at the World Cup finals (D2, L9) dating back 24 years.
- Their last win was a 1-0 victory over Belgium in USA 1994.
- The Green Falcons have kept just one clean sheet in their last 14 World Cup games, conceding 37 goals during that spell.
- They have also conceded 14 headed goals since their World Cup debut in 1994, more than any other team in that period.
- Saudi Arabia have failed to score in eight of their last 10 World Cup games and didn’t register a shot on target in the 5-0 defeat to Russia on Thursday.
- The Saudis have finished bottom of their group in their last three World Cup appearances.
Players to watch
The focus for Uruguay will continue to be stout defense and getting the ball to Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez, the top two goal scorers in the history of Uruguayan international soccer. Mohammad al-Sahlawi, who scored 16 goals during qualifying, shares the distinction of being the top scorer worldwide in 2018.
Uruguay: vs. Russia in Samara, June 25, 10 a.m.
Saudi Arabia: vs. Egypt in Volgograd, June 25, 10 a.m.
Referee: Turpin C. (Fra)
Venue: Rostov Arena (Rostov)