The majority of the neutrals in the Old Trafford crowd had gone to the game expecting a comfortable win for the South Americans, but in truth UAE were unlucky not to be ahead at the interval.
The west Asians settled quickly, producing a mixture of passing and pressure which was a joy to watch. Prompted by the vision of Omar Abdulrahman in midfield, Madhi Redha’s side created several great chances as early as the fifth minute.
Ismaeil Matar shot wide from close range while under pressure, but the forward made no such mistake midway through the half when Abdulrahman played a perfect through-ball which split the defence, allowing Matar to finish coolly past Martin Campana.
UAE had three fine opportunities to double their advantage soon after, but failed to take them. First Ahmed Khalil fired straight at the goalkeeper when well placed, then Rashed Eisa forced a fine save from Uruguay’s No1 from an acute angle before Matar’s header from an Abdulrahman centre went the wrong side of the post.
In contrast, Uruguay were brutally clinical. With their only chance of the half, they scored. Gaston Ramirez’s left-footed free-kick from just under 25 yards flew past Ali Khaseif to give La Celeste an unlikely equaliser.
A tactical switch from Oscar Tabarez paid dividends for Uruguay. Replacing Matias Aguirregaray with Nicolas Lodeiro, the team appeared to be more balanced and began to dominate. The pressure paid off in the 56th minute when the substitute fired home from 12 yards to give his side the lead.
UAE did not give up, but despite an off-target shot from Khalil, they rarely tested Campana.
The group now moves to Wembley on Sunday where Uruguay face Senegal while UAE must look to bounce back against hosts Great Britain.