Luis Suarez scored for the second straight match and Edinson Cavani finally found the back of the net as Uruguay ran out a comfortable 3-0 winner over 10-man Russia on Monday to claim Group A of the World Cup in Samara.
La Celeste also got an own goal from Russia midfielder Denis Cheryshev in the 23rd minute as they got the needed victory to overtake the host country for group honors. Uruguay, which is in the knockout round for the third consecutive World Cup, will face Group B runner-up and reigning European champion Portugal on Saturday in Sochi.
The Sbornaya, meanwhile, will play 2010 World Cup and Group B winner Spain on Sunday in Moscow. They had made three changes for this contest, with one proving vital as second-choice defender Igor Smolnikov, replacing Mario Fernandes, was sent off on 36 minutes after his second yellow card of the contest.
Uruguay also overturned a good portion of its lineup, with Sebastian Coates, Diego Laxalt, Lucas Torreira and Nahitan Nandez all elevated into Oscar Tabarez’s starting XI. Despite the makeover. the two-time champion started fast and controlled play. A turnover by Russia allowed Cavani to advance and pass to Matias Vecino, whose shot from distance was wide.
Sloppy play led to Uruguay taking the lead on 10 minutes. A poor backpass by Alexander Samedov allowed Suarez to race down the left side. His cross for Cavani was deflected, but right into the path of Rodrigo Bentancur, who was cut down from behind by Iury Gazinsky just above the penalty area.
Suarez ripped his ensuing free kick low between Russia’s wall and the right post, beating Igor Akinfeev for his second goal of the World Cup and 53rd overall for La Celeste. Cavani opened the gap for Suarez to fire as he dragged Sergey Ignashevich to his left in coverage going behind the wall.
Cheryshev tried to find a quick equalizer for Russia, but his shot was stopped by Fernando Muslera before cleared by the Uruguay defense for a corner that failed to threaten. The Villarreal midfielder, though, was left to rue his contribution that doubled La Celeste’s lead in the 23rd minute.
A corner by Lucas Torreira was cleared as far as Diego Laxalt, who tried a left-footed shot from 30 yards that appeared to be going wide of the right post until it clipped the inside of Cheryshev’s leg and squirmed inside the left post past a diving Akinfeev.
Smolnikov picked up his first yellow card in the 27th minute, and Uruguay was gaining steam as Suarez sent Bentancur through the middle, but Akinfeev stood his ground to make the save, and the defense cleared the rebound before Cavani could pounce.
The Zenit St. Petersburg right back was given his marching orders shortly thereafter after scything Laxalt from behind that left referee Malang Diedhiou no choice but to brandish a second yellow.
Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov then removed Cheryshev, essentially signaling the competitive end of the match with an eye on his team’s round of 16 contest.
Bentancur was booked just before the hour as the teams traded possession with little in the way of threatening each other’s goal. Artem Dzyuba had a penalty shout in the 71st minute after being clipped by Diego Godin, but VAR did not deem the play foul-worthy.
La Celeste played the final 10 minutes with purpose looking for a third, with Cristian Rodriguez forcing Akinfeev to punch away his 25-yard effort in the 82nd minute. Torreira had a chance clawed out in the 87th minute, and Akinfeev’s best save of the sequence came when he had to make a diving punch save of another long-range effort from Rodriguez as he tried to pick out the upper right corner.
But Russia’s defense finally broke on the ensuing corner kick as Cavani got to the rebound of a save by Akinfeev on a header by Godin and tapped home in the 90th minute for his 43rd international goal.
It was Uruguay’s fifth straight win in World Cup group play and fourth consecutive shutout. La Celeste have not conceded in 375 minutes in the first round since Wayne Rooney scored for England in Uruguay’s 2-1 win June 19, 2014.
Russia, which will make its first appearance in a World Cup knockout round since 1986 as the Soviet Union, had gone 2-2-5 in its previous nine group games before breaking through as host country.
Smolnikov will miss the round of 16 match to serve his red card ban, and Fedor Smolov and Aleksandr Golovin will be on yellow cards. Bentancur’s caution was Uruguay’s first of the World Cup.