Uruguay snatched a late winner as they began their World Cup campaign with a dramatic victory over Egypt, who left Mohamed Salah on the bench.
Jose Gimenez headed powerfully into the net in the 90th minute as he met Carlos Sanchez’s free-kick to give the South Americans a winning start in Russia.
Uruguay had been the better side as Luis Suarez had missed four chances and Edinson Cavani had hit the inside of a post with a 25-yard free-kick.
Salah, who scored 44 times for Liverpool this season, remained an unused substitute as he continues to recover from a shoulder injury sustained in last month’s Champions League final.
Without Salah, Egypt lacked a cutting edge and had looked on course to earn a point in their first match at a World Cup finals since 1990 before Gimenez’s late goal.
The result means Russia are top of Group A after their 5-0 victory over Saudi Arabia in the tournament’s opening game on Thursday.
It had looked like being a frustrating afternoon for two-time World Cup winners Uruguay, with Barcelona forward Suarez surprisingly off form.
He was making his 99th international appearance and was playing in a World Cup finals game for the first time since being banned from all football related activity for four months for biting Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini during Brazil 2014.
But at the Ekaterinburg Arena Suarez proved wasteful.
He shot off target early on, scuffed a shot wide when unmarked only six yards out and was then twice denied by Egypt goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shenawy – who saved one shot with his legs and then stopped Suarez from taking the ball around him.
Uruguay finished the match strongly with El-Shenawy making a fantastic one-handed save to push away Cavani’s well-struck effort from the edge of the penalty area late on.
Cavani later hit the post with a fine 25-yard free-kick before El-Shenawy was beaten in the 90th minute.
Egypt miss Salah’s influence
The game took place at the 35,000-capacity Ekaterinburg Arena, which features a temporary 45-metre stand behind each goal, with the stands built specifically for this tournament.
However, there was a surprising number of empty seats with the attendance being only 27,015.
The Egypt fans in the stadium were expecting to see Salah play, especially after boss Hector Cuper had said on Thursday that he could “almost 100% assure” media that Salah would feature.
However, Salah, who celebrated his 26th birthday on Friday, remained an unused substitute, deemed not fit enough to play as he continued his recovery from injuring shoulder ligaments during Liverpool’s Champions League final defeat by Real Madrid on 26 May.
Egypt fans were reduced to cheering their idol when he was shown on the big screens in the stadium, but hopes of him playing ended in the 82nd minute when Egypt made their third and final substitution.
Without Salah, Egypt struggled to create chances, although Trezeguet should have done better with a weak shot on the turn and Ahmed Fathy saw a well-struck long-range effort saved by Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera.
Egypt fans will be hoping to see Salah in their second match of the tournament, against hosts Russia on Tuesday, 19 June.
Man of the match – Diego Godin (Uruguay)
Egypt remain without a World Cup win – the stats
- Uruguay have won their opening match at a World Cup tournament for the first time since 1970, when they beat Israel.
- Egypt are still winless at the World Cup finals, failing to win five matches (drew two, lost three).
- Jose Gimenez’s winning goal in the 90th minute was Uruguay’s latest winning goal in a World Cup match since Daniel Fonseca’s 92nd minute winner against South Korea in June 1990.
- Egypt have failed to score in each of their last three World Cup matches.
- African teams are winless in their last 19 World Cup encounters with South American teams (drew four, lost 15) since Cameroon beat Colombia in June 1990.
- Jose Gimenez has scored in consecutive appearances for Uruguay, also scoring in a friendly against Uzbekistan.
- Uruguay have won each of their last three World Cup group stage games with a goal scored in the last 10 minutes of matches.
- Three of Uruguay’s last four World Cup goals have been scored via headers – only three of their previous 22 World Cup goals had been headed.
- This was Oscar Tabarez’s 16th World Cup match in charge of Uruguay – only one manager has managed more matches for a South American country at the World Cup (Mario Zagallo for Brazil, 20 games).
- Oscar Tabarez became the fifth manager to take charge of the same country at four different World Cup finals (1990, 2010, 2014 and 2018), after Walter Winterbottom (England), Josef Herberger (Germany), Helmut Schon (Germany) and Lajos Bartori (Hungary).
‘Salah will have an important role’ – what they said
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez said: “To win matches in this group means we will be able to progress. We either die or we kill and the experience today will help us grow, but we can’t make too much of it.
“Sometimes the ball will go to the back of the net, sometimes it won’t but we are always looking to score. I’m very happy with the attitude of the team and how they played.
“Egypt played very well, a very good game, but I imagine with Mo Salah, if he had been in top form Egypt would have benefited with him on the pitch, but we will never know.”
Egypt coach Hector Cuper said: “Mo Salah is an important player for us but you need to have a good team, and we have a good team. Salah will have an important role for us in the future matches.
“We wanted to avoid risks in this match [with Salah], but I think he will be fine for the next game.”