There were no 26th birthday Salah-brations for Mohamed Salah following Gimenez’s 89th minute header finding the back of the net to seal a 1-0 victory for previous two-time Word Cup winners Uruguay at Ekaterinburg Arena.
In the lead up to what had been touted the prime fixture of Group A, there was one question on everyone’s mind- Mo Salah or No Salah?
The revelation of the team line-ups revealed Salah would be benched following a dislocated shoulder that saw Salah leave the ground during Real Madrid’s Champions League final victory three weeks out from Egypt opening their 2018 World Cup campaign.
With the absence of Salah, the game was to be won or lost within Egypt’s midfield and Mohamend Elneny’s ability to shutdown Uruguay’s two all-time top goal scorers; Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani with 50 and 42 goals in their past 97 and 100 games respectively.
Egypt largely limited the two Uruguayan forwards in the first 45, with the exception of a 23rd minute strike from Suárez that was expected to his the back of the net, only to find the side netting.
Despite Uruguay’s 57 percent possession and two shots on target, the game remained scoreless at the end of the first half.
The second half started immediately with a fantastic save from Egyptian keeper Mohamed El Shenawy to deny Suárez’s right-footed effort within the first minute of the restart.
Egypt were then quickly served another blow only minutes later with midfielder Tarek Hamed indicating he could not play on following an awkward landing after a header attempt.
Feeling that Uruguay were starting to get the upper hand, coach Óscar Tabárez looked towards the experience on his bench to further their growing dominance; making a double substitution to bring Cristian Rodriguez and Carlos Sánchez into play in the 60thminute in an effort to funnel balls forward.
This strategic move heralded a barrage of goal attempts in the final 30 minutes that saw Egyptian keeper El Shenawy earn the top player rating for the match. Suárez in a one-on-one effort with El Shenawy in the 72nd, a Suárez header to Cavani’s boot deprived by the hand of El Shenawy in the 82nd, and finally an 87th minute rocketing free kick from Cavani denied by the far post woodwork.
And just when a scoreless draw looked inevitable, heartbreak hit the Egyptian team with Uruguay stealing victory in the final minute of regulation time courtesy of the head of Jose Gimenez. The goal spurred absolute scenes on the pitch with the entire Uruguayan bench piling onto Gimenez and contributing 90 seconds to the 5 minutes of injury time announced to see out the match. Mo Salah’s devastation was evident as the camera panned to the Egyptian bench knowing that Suárez’s Uruguay had just taken a huge bite out of their World Cup hopes.
In a win for football fans, it was refreshing to see no ominous, fast food-sponsored VAR flashing lights in the corner of screens, including following a poorly executed dive from Abdallah El Said that only received a wagging finger gesture from referee Bjorn Kuipers, not unlike that presented to fans by Robbie Williams during the opening ceremony 24 hours earlier. Unfortunately, Australian viewers also found themselves refreshing their browsers and apps throughout the match due to the poor stream quality of Optus’ exclusive footage, which earned the telecomm a barrage of social-media hate throughout the evening.
The loss sees Egypt fall to third within what has now become a hotly contested Group A following their next opponent Russia’s 5-0 drubbing of Saudi Arabia in the opening match of the Cup.
by Hayley Leedham