ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia (Reuters) - After sneaking past Egypt in their World Cup opener with a stoppage-time winner, Uruguay will field a veteran side containing seven players aged 31 or over against Saudi Arabia as they seek a victory that would seal their place in the last 16.
With the hour mark approaching against Egypt and his side struggling to create chances, coach Oscar Tabarez removed young wingers Nahitan Nandez and Giorgian De Arrascaeta, aged 22 and 24 respectively, replacing them with hardened veterans Cristian Rodriguez, 32, and Carlos Sanchez, 33.
The South Americans instantly had more strength and power down the flanks and created a string of chances before defender Jose Gimenez rose to head in an arching cross from a free kick from Sanchez to snatch all three points.
Tabarez confirmed that he will reward the evergreen wingers with starting berths against Saudi Arabia, the second lowest ranked team in the tournament who were thrashed 5-0 by Russia in their opener.
“It’s not about being young or experienced it’s due to the needs of the team for this game, and according to my information this is the line-up which will best suit us,” Tabarez told a news conference on Tuesday.
Rodriguez will make his 107th appearance for Uruguay on Wednesday, prolific striker Luis Suarez will rack up a century of appearances for the national team and goalkeeper Fernando Muslera will reach 99 games.
Muslera will also tie Ladislao Mazurkiewicz as the player to have made the most appearances for Uruguay at a World Cup.
Tabarez’s preference for old hands Sanchez and Rodriguez, who play their football in Mexico and Uruguay respectively, may raise questions about the next generation of players in the squad, which is comprised of 10 players aged 30 or more, double the number that reached the semi-finals in 2010.
But the coach said his side’s wealth of experience was a strength.
“I have a lot of confidence in the team I’m going to put out tomorrow, they have a lot of experience,” added the 72-year-old, who has coached Uruguay since 2006.
“If I’ve learned one thing from being at the World Cup it’s that anything can happen. In South Africa, we used all of our players apart from the reserve goalkeepers. And just because I took some players off in the first game it doesn’t mean their tournament is over.”
Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Ed Osmond