VATUTINKI, Russia (Reuters) - Hosts Russia and their expectant fans were given a brutal reality check on Monday when Uruguay exposed the weaknesses in the side that had been papered over in the uplifting victories over weak Egypt and Saudi Arabia in World Cup Group A.
The South Americans outclassed the hosts in every department to cruise to a 3-0 victory, secure top spot in the group with three wins and send their hapless opponents back to the drawing board ahead of the knockout stage.
The Russians, who were playing with 10 men for almost an hour, had no chance against the first strong team they had encountered in the tournament, after their early wins had created the impression they could go far.
Uruguay, controlling possession and playing the ball around confidently, exposed the hosts for what they are — the lowest-ranked team in this World Cup.
The Russian defence constantly struggled with the speed of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez, proven talents on the world stage as opposed to the Saudi and Egyptian players the Russians had put eight goals past.
In attack, their firepower was concentrated in the solitary frustrated figure of Artem Dzyuba, who pleaded desperately with his teammates for more accurate passing and delivery as they wasted every single set piece, either too wide or too long.
But Dzyuba is not a striker capable of turning a match single-handedly like Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo or Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku and he was beaten in every aerial battle by world-class defender Diego Godin.
Meanwhile, the Uruguayan machine, so well oiled by Oscar Tabarez even after making four changes to the team that beat the Saudis, delivered a lesson in efficient attacking football, with battling Rodrigo Betancur orchestrating their fluid game.
Two goals in the first 23 minutes and a red card for Russia a little later killed off the game early.
Russia were badly missing their own midfield ace Aleksandr Golovin, rested for fear of another booking that could have seen him miss the next game.
Coach Stanislav Cherchesov had made two more changes but they also backfired spectacularly, with Igor Smolnikov sent off in the 36th minute after a second booking, and Fyodor Kudryashov equally overworked in defence.
While Uruguay are brimming with confidence after keeping a clean sheet in a three-match World Cup group stage for only the second time, Russia must somehow bounce back fast if they are not to exit the tournament much quicker than a nation dreams of.
Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Ian Chadband