Uruguay, the victors of Group A, and Portugal, the second-place finishers in Group B, will clash on Saturday, June 30th in a heavyweight battle. Portugal drew with Spain and Iran and narrowly beat Morocco, while Uruguay cruised against Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Russia. Which team will have the upper hand, and how will the tactics of the opposing managers affect the result?
Uruguay eviscerated ten-man Russia 3-0 in a match that could have easily finished 5-0 to the South Americans. Luis Suarez scored a perfectly-placed free kick around the wall, and Diego Laxalt and Edinson Cavani tacked on goals as well. Uruguay only managed to score once each against Saudi Arabia and Egypt, but their defence was never really troubled. This is a dangerous team – they have taken all nine points, and more importantly, Uruguay haven’t conceded a goal.
Portugal, on the other hand, had somewhat of a nervy group stage. A 3-3 draw against Spain was only made possible by the heroics of Cristiano Ronaldo, who also scored the lone goal in their victory against Morocco. Indeed, Portugal can consider themselves fortunate that Iran missed a clear chance in the 93rd minute of their game that would have sent Ronaldo and co. back home; additionally, Ronaldo should probably have been sent off for his blatant hit on Iranian defender Morteza Pouraliganji, which would have left him ineligible for this match. Ronaldo also missed a penalty in the last match. Portugal’s form is somewhat shaky, but they had a much trickier group to navigate than their Uruguayan counterparts.
While Oscar Tabarez tends to favor a 4-4-2, he switched to a 3-5-2 for Uruguay’s last match against Russia. This enabled him to include Lucas Torreira, who was able to sit in front of the back three and dictate the flow of the game against a Russia team that looked very off the pace. Additionally, he deployed Diego Laxalt on the left-hand flank as a wide midfielder. Laxalt, traditionally an out-and-out winger for Genoa, was able to use his supreme pace to comfortably track back and help out his defenders. Laxalt struck a sweet volley that scored Uruguay’s second goal, albeit with the help of a deflection. However, Uruguay were forced into this tactical alignment to account for the minor injury to star defender Jose Maria Gimenez. The Atleti center-back should be fully fit for this tie, though, so Uruguay could line up in either way.
Portugal have lined up in a 4-4-2 that operates as more of a 4-2-2-2, with the wide midfielders pushing forward and playing as inverted wingers. Much of the team play focuses on releasing Ronaldo into the corners, as his strike partner Andre Silva drops deeper and focuses more on linkup play. Bernardo Silva is well suited for this role, and Rafael Guerrero has provided energy with his overlapping runs from the left-fullback slot.
This game will be decided by the crucial matchups between the elite forwards for both sides. Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez will fancy their chances against the aging duo of Pepe and Jose Fonte, although that pairing will be aided by the efforts of defensive midfielder WIlliam Carvalho. Ronaldo and Silva will face Gimenez and his teammate and captain Diego Godin; interestingly enough, this pairing faces Ronaldo at least twice a year in La Liga. However, Uruguay are weaker at the fullback slot than Portugal, and when the Iberian side are in possession they could pose a threat to the Uruguayan defense. Both sides will likely elect to play a safer style of possession rather than looking to open up the game, and it would not be surprising to see this game go to extra time or penalties.
Uruguay 1, Portugal 1 (Uruguay wins 4-2 on penalties)