Uruguay scored two goals in the first half of a World Cup game for the first time since 1966 as hosts Russia were beaten 3-0, suffering their first defeat at the tournament.
A resplendent first 45 minutes from La Celeste saw them open up a 2-0 lead, with Luis Suarez’s free-kick and Diego Laxalt’s deflected strike putting them in the driving seat.
Igor Smolnikov’s red card threatened to see the South Americans run away with it, but the hosts stood strong before a late Edinson Cavani goal put gloss on the victory.
Here we take a look at three talking points.
ARE RUSSIA THE REAL DEAL?
Igor Smolnikov (l) was dismissed for a lunge on Diego Laxalt.
Russia are making a mockery of pre-tournament predictions that they could surpass South Africa as the worst performing hosts of a World Cup.
Stanislav Cherchesov’s side came into the tournament as the lowest ranked side in the FIFA rankings, with many already writing them off after a collection of woeful results stretching back to the start of 2017 – just four wins in 16 games.
They ripped up the script on opening night as Saudi Arabia were put to the sword. They backed it up with another swashbuckling performance against Egypt in their second game, a 3-1 win quite unbelievably confirming their presence in the knockout rounds.
But Uruguay was the acid test. And even though the South Americans opened up a 2-0 lead in the first half, the hosts held firm – keeping the Luis Suarez-inspired La Celeste scoreless for much of the second period, despite seeing Igor Smolnikov sent off after just 36 minutes.
No-one expects them to go beyond the last 16 on home soil. But as they dug in and impressed against sterner opposition, they are no longer at risk of exiting as a laughing stock.
SUAREZ AND CAVANI FINALLY JOIN THE PARTY
Uruguay edged to two laborious victories in their opening pair of World Cup fixtures, but they finally showed some flair as Russia were put to the sword.
Suarez fired in a fine free-kick to put his side in the ascendancy early on and Cavani poked home from a corner to notch his first goal of the tournament – his strike a milestone for the Paris Saint-Germain front man as he scored for the first time in a Uruguay win at a World Cup.
The pair are now the only two players to score at three separate tournaments for La Celeste – with the industrious Cavani particularly deserving of his goal after grafting in the first three games.
It’s been a slow start from both Uruguay and their two star men, but with both finally firing they will pose a dangerous prospect for any side in the last 16.
LAXALT LEADS LIST OF EXALTED YOUNG LA CELESTE STARS
The dreadlocked Diego Laxalt is congratulated by his teammates.
On a night when goalkeeper Fernando Muslera became the latest member to join Uruguay’s exclusive 100 Club, it was players very much in the embryonic stages of their international careers that were grabbing the headlines.
The cornrowed Laxalt, winning just his eighth cap, was deadly. He fired in – albeit fortuitously – his first La Celeste strike, while lung-bursting runs tempted Russia right-back Smolnikov into a diabolical lunge that earned the Zenit Saint Petersburg player a deserved second yellow.
Elsewhere, Juventus’ Rodrigo Bentancur really should have joined him on the scoresheet, wasting a glorious goalscoring opportunity but further raising his reputation on his third start and 10th cap.
Nahitan Nandez, meanwhile, led his side with three tackles on his 15th outing, while Lucas Torreira’s three interceptions in just his sixth cap also led Uruguay.
All four have a combined age of 90. Six of their colleagues have 100 caps or more (Suarez, Cavani, Cristian Rodriguez, Diego Godin, Maxi Pereira and Muslera).
The future’s bright for the men in sky blue.