The major teamsheet news ahead of the match was that Egypt’s Mohamed Salah was fit enough for the bench, but would not start. In midfield, both teams played a set of busy, workmanlike players willing to run and tackle, but with little skill on the ball, which produced a very scrappy match.
Uruguay usually deal with their lack of team creativity by bypassing their midfield and hitting passes directly into the attack, where they possess two of the finest strikers in the world (and the two top scorers in their nation’s history) in Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. The pair have been dovetailing well together in the most recent qualifying matches and friendlies, with one staying centrally while the other drops deeper and wider or works the channels before connecting with his partner in the more dangerous central area. However, in the first half, both tended to sit in either channel at the same time spread very far apart. This neutralized the entire Egyptian back four with the left sided centreback and left back taking one dangerous striker and the right sided centreback and right back taking the other, but it also served to neutralize Uruguay’s own greatest asset. Facing four on two and spread relatively far apart and unable to combine, Uruguay’s two most dangerous players barely made a peep from open play in the first 45 minutes.
This surplus of attention given to Uruguay’s strike force should have allowed other Uruguayan players to shine, particularly Arrascuenda and Nandez, who should have been able to do damage with the time and space afforded to them. Instead, they were desperately, desperately poor. They neither used their freedom to push off the ball and try to combine with their isolated strikers nor tried to dribble decisively with the ball, instead preferring to play short passes between themselves, their holding midfielders, and their fullbacks, keeping the ball in nonthreatening areas before launching the ball hopefully at the two outnumbered strikers. Midway through the half, an utterly frustrated Diego Godin tried to show them how to their jobs, bursting forward out of the centre of defense on a mazy dribble, working his way all the way from one end of the pitch to the other before passing to Arrascuenda in a dangerous area, only to watch the winger scorn the chance with a donkey of a first touch that thumped the ball out of bounds. The Uruguayan wingers’ abject performance led them to be rightfully yanked off together at the 60 minute mark, at which point Uruguay began at last to pose a more reasonable threat to the opposition.
At that point, Uruguay’s strikers also began to show more understanding of space, with only one occupying the channels or dropping deeper at a time. Egypt began to bunker down in a low block of two banks of four to try and survive, where in the first half they had mostly managed to avoid falling back so close to their own goal.
Egypt defended in a mid block in the first half, and their defensive organization was impressive, though to be fair it is difficult to know how much credit to give them when Uruguay were so incoherent. In attack, Mohsen used his height and physique to compete for long balls and tried to hold play up for Trezeguet and Said, while Warda hugged the touchline to stretch the play. Trezeguet and Said particularly impressed with their first touch and off the ball movement. As a whole, their attack linked well together and created some half chances and other good opportunities that fizzled to nothing. The problem was that their finishing was poor and they were unable to dribble past any of Uruguay’s excellent backline after creating one on one situations. One thinks that Salah could have helped with this.
In one point each in the first half and the second, Suarez managed to wriggle free of close attention to work himself golden opportunities. In the first instance, his rasping effort from a tight angle with the goalkeeper beaten found only the side netting, and the failure to score seemed to affect his mental state. He was visibly frustrated with himself and was producing very poor first touches in and around the box, until finally a first touch more up to his usual standard produced the second real chance of the match. But instead of taking the shot in stride, Suarez hesitated, allowing the goalkeeper to intervene. Suarez’s poor play in critical moments and overall would have been the deciding factor in the match if not for
Set pieces were becoming more and more of a factor as the match progressed. Suarez’s first chance had already come following loose Egyptian defending after a corner. Cavani then slammed a dipping free kick against the post after lazy foul just outside the box. Egypt’s tired legs and more passive defensive positioning closer to their own goal produced more and more fouls and free kicks in dangerous areas, until at the last minute, a wide free kick was met by a towering Jimenez header, and Egypt found themselves behind.
Having controlled the game relatively well until about the last 20 or 30 minutes, Egyptian manager Hector Cuper had not felt it necessary to risk the health of his country’s most dangerous player, instead using all three of his subs on like for like replacements of tiring players to try and freshen up his team’s legs. However, that decision seemed to come up snake eyes as the team was now chasing the game in extra time and could have used Salah’s quality when the game was extremely stretched prior to Jimenez’s goal or after it as the team were chasing an equalizer.
Uruguay produced enough good chances to win the game, but were very poor overall and do not look anything like a danger to progress very far in the tournament, even with Suarez and Cavani, unless they make tactical changes. Egypt were hard working and intelligent, but without Salah, they just don’t have enough firepower to make it out of this group, especially with Russia having thumped so many goals past Saudi Arabia already.