Rwanda were just seconds away from earning their first point at a FIFA finals when Uruguay goalkeeper Jonathan Cubero slammed a hopeful free-kick up the field and Leonardo Pais headed home to break the African debutants’ hearts. It was a bitter pill to swallow for the newcomers in their second Group C game in Pachuca, but the Uruguayans, who defended stoutly, are now into the round of 16.
Rwanda, in need of a win after dropping their opener against England, came out flying against Uruguay, showing determination and taking firm control of midfield. Inside the first five minutes, the Africans had a pair of fine chances to score their first-ever goal at a FIFA competition; both came from free-kicks from captain Emery Bayisenge. The first slammed off the bottom of the post, beating Jonathan Cubero, and the second curled over the crossbar.
The Africans were dictating the pattern of play as the half wore on, but coach Richard Tardy was forced into an early substitution, losing defender Faustin Usengimana to what looked a painful knee injury. The South Americans took advantage of the switch in the Rwandan rearguard to push up into attack a bit, if only through the occasional counter-attack. Elbio Alvarez had a decent chance go begging when he rounded the keeper, but failed to take advantage of the open goal after collecting a long ball out of midfield.
Shortly after, in the 27th minute, Uruguay missed a glorious chance to open the scoring. Juan San Martin found himself all alone in front of Marcel Nzaroza’s net, but he fluffed his lines, somehow side-footing wide of the target to a howl of laughter from the crowd. The Rwandans breathed a sigh of relief and finished the half strongly, with both Mwesigye Tibingana and Andrew Buteera testing Uruguay’s keeper from an acute angle.
The Uruguayans kicked-off the second half in the mood to attack. Gaston Silva hit a sharp free-kick, but Marcel Nzaroza was up to the task with a fine save. Juan Cruz Mascia, Uruguay’s most potent attacking threat, followed up with a try of his own, but it soared over the bar from 12 yards in the 63rd minute.
Uruguay were pressing. Substitute Heber Ratti hit inches wide of the Rwandan post after 73 minutes when he found himself in front of goal unmarked. Alvarez then followed up seconds later by ballooning his try well over after cutting inside nicely. In the end, Uruguay pulled out the win with Pais heading home with the last action of the game.
The South Americans next play against England in Torreon on 25 June with coach Fabian Coito able to rest some of his players. They also keep up their record of not conceding at these finals. Rwanda finish up their group account against Canada, in search of that elusive first point and technically still alive.