Uruguay’s slender victory over Saudi Arabia ensured that they and host nation Russia reached the last 16 of the World Cup.
Luis Suarez scored the only goal at the Rostov Arena, sweeping in from close range on his 100th international appearance.
It was hard on the Green Falcons, who were knocked out despite a vast improvement from their 5-0 defeat by Russia in the tournament’s opening game.
However, while they largely eliminated their defensive errors and enjoyed more possession than their opponents, they were made to pay for one lapse by goalkeeper Mohammed Al Owais, whose misjudgement allowed Suarez to score.
Russia’s 3-1 win over Egypt on Tuesday means both they and Uruguay have collected maximum points from their two Group A games.
Both nations are six points clear of third-placed Egypt with one game to play.
Yet with Portugal and Spain as prospective last-16 opponents, it remains to be seen what advantage either could grasp from winning the group when they meet in Samara on 25 June (15.00 BST kick-off).
In truth, it was another stuttering display from Oscar Tabarez’s Uruguay team. They were more functional than exhilarating and reliant upon the threat carried by Barcelona’s Suarez and strike partner Edinson Cavani.
The Paris St-Germain forward’s vision and perseverance should have resulted in a second goal, but Carlos Sanchez spurned a headed chance and Al Owais saved at Cavani’s feet in the closing stages.
Suarez may be entering the latter part of his career but the former Liverpool forward’s predatory instincts showed no signs of dimming during his 100th appearance for his country.
The 31-year-old was largely anonymous during Uruguay’s opening win against Egypt, and though far from the effervescent figure that Premier League and La Liga audiences are familiar with, he remains a difficult opponent to pin down over 90 minutes.
He scored a volley, had another deflected wide and combined well with Cavani early on – but thereafter Saudi defender Ali Albulayhi acted as his shadow, dispensing several tough challenges and moments of gamesmanship that appeared to rile Suarez.
To his credit, the Barcelona forward – who has received bans in his previous two World Cups – passed the test of temperament.
And his goal ensured Uruguay reached the knockout stages for their third consecutive finals.
Playing for pride
The Saudi coach Juan Antonio Pizzi talked of a “feeling of shame” after their 5-0 loss to Russia, with his players accused of freezing on the big occasion.
However, Wednesday’s resilient display was in total contrast, and one to be proud of, as they took the game to their more fancied opponents.
They resembled the side that former coach Bert van Marwijk guided through qualification ahead of Australia and a point behind Japan.
Al Hilal midfielder Abdullah Ateef exhibited his range of passing and football intelligence to show why he has been nicknamed the “Saudi Modric” [after Croatia and Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric] by his team-mates.
And there were also moments of promise from Fahad Al Muwallad and Mohamed Kanno without there ever quite being enough thrust or accuracy to trouble their South American opponents or deliver a first victory in 12 World Cup matches.