ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia (Reuters) - Uruguay’s uninspired World Cup win against Saudi Arabia may not have been “fun” for fans, but the twice South American champions will rise to the challenge in the last 16, coach Oscar Tabarez said on Wednesday.
Barcelona striker Luis Suarez marked his 100th international cap by sending Uruguay into the knockout phase and eliminating Saudi Arabia with a 1-0 win.
But fears remain that Suarez, 31, is not in top form while fellow striker Edinson Cavani wasted numerous chances against a fighting Saudi Arabia, including one in the 14th minute when he skied a half volley over the bar.
“The only thing that surprised me was the low level of my team in the first half, we were very far from our usual level, and you could say that’s because Saudi Arabia made it hard for us,” Tabarez told reporters.
That performance followed Uruguay’s narrow 1-0 win over Egypt in their opening game thanks to an 89th minute header by Jose Gimenez.
“These games might not be fun for fans to watch,” Tabarez conceded, but at least Uruguay had not let in any goals or suffered injuries or yellow cards.
“Of course we want to manage our matches better and have more goal-scoring opportunities,” added Tabarez, who took charge of Uruguay for a second spell in 2006 and is fondly known as ‘El Maestro.’
But many fans also underestimated Uruguay’s Group A adversaries, Tabarez said, stressing that the World Cup in Russia was brimming with upsets, including favorites Brazil and Germany both failing to win their opening games.
“Some people might think that winning these matches is easy. People were talking about Russia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia without really knowing,” said Tabarez.
“I believe that in this World Cup we’ve seen so many surprises so far that we can’t take things for granted. Remember in the past when we saw scoreboards of 10-1 in a World Cup? You don’t see that very much anymore.”
With temperatures reaching 33 degrees Celsius at the game, Tabarez said “the heat was almost unbearable.”
Uruguay will take on either Spain, Portugal or Iran in the next round.
Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer and Richard Martin, editing by Pritha Sarkar