SAMARA: Double World Cup winners Uruguay strode confidently into the knockout stage of the 2018 finals top of Group A in Russia after beating their hosts 3-0 in Samara.

The Celeste will play the runners-up from Group B in the round of 16 in Sochi while Russia, having finished runners-up, will return to the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow where it all began for them almost two weeks ago.

Luis Suarez led the way. He fired the South Americans in front with a sweetly-struck free-kick just 10 minutes in at the Samara Arena before Denis Cheryshev deflected Diego Laxalt’s effort past goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev 13 minutes later to double the advantage.

Russia’s hopes of launching a fightback were effectively dashed before half-time when full-back Igor Smolnikov was sent off for a second bookable offence and, although they were much improved after the restart, Edinson Cavani struck again at the death as Uruguay coasted to a 3-0 win to complete a maximum haul of nine points without conceding a single goal.

Uruguay made a positive start when Matias Vecino whistled a long-range effort just wide of Akinfeev’s right post with less than two minutes gone as the South Americans served warning of their intent.

But the Russia keeper was beaten with 10 minutes gone after midfielder Rodrigo Betancur was tripped on the edge of the penalty area after Suarez had broken free down the left and crossed.

The Barcelona striker stepped up to smash the resulting free-kick low to Akinfeev’s left and into the bottom corner after Russian defender Sergei Ignashevich inexplicably moved out of the way to clear the path to goal.

Russia might have been level within two minutes, but three-goal midfielder Cheryshev directed his volley from Artem Dzyuba’s header straight at Fernando Muslera, winning his 100th senior cap in the Uruguayan goal.

However, the hosts’ plight took a further turn for the worse with 23 minutes played when, after Lucas Torreira’s corner had been only half-cleared, Laxalt’s fierce driver took a wicked deflection off Cheryshev and flew past the keeper to make it 2-0.

Akinfeev kept his side’s fading hopes alive by denying Betancur a goal on his 21st birthday five minutes later, although they were dealt a further blow nine minutes before the break when Smolnikov, who had earlier been booked for a foul on Cavani, felled Laxalt and received a second yellow card.

Having replaced Cheryshev with Mario Fernandes in the immediate aftermath of Smolnikov’s premature departure, Russia boss Stanislav Cherchesov sent on midfielder Daler Kuziaev for Yuri Gazinsky at the break and saw his team rally.

With striker Fedor Smolov added to the mix as a replacement for Alexei Miranchuk, Russia battled for a way back into the game in sweltering heat, but as Uruguay skipper Diego Godin marshalled his defensive troops, chances were few and far between.

Godin was denied a goal to cap a fine individual performance when Akinfeev somehow kept out his 90th-minute bullet header, but Cavani was on hand to push the ball into the net.

Uruguay are the first side to win all three of their group games without conceding a single goal sine Argentina in 1998 (seven goals scored, none conceded). They have also now won three consecutive World Cup matches against European opposition for the first time since a run of four straight victories between 1950 and 1954.

Fernando Muslera, celebrating his 100th cap in this game, became Uruguay’s all-time leading appearance maker at the World Cup (14) overtaking Ladislao Mazurkiewicz.