Russia and Uruguay face each other for top honours in Group A after having qualified with 6 points in two games played.
Though the results are similar, the manner of their qualification has varied immensely. While Russia displayed a hitherto unseen swashbuckling style, Uruguay were dour as expected, with identical score lines of 1-0.
Russia lacked first choice centre back options going into the World Cup, having to recall the recently retired 39 year old Ignashevich in the fold. To compound matters, star number 10 Alan Dzagoev pulled his hamstring in the opener against Saudi.
The hosts to their credit though didn't let these setbacks get in their way, rollicking to consecutive 5-0 and 3-1 victories against Saudi Arabia and Egypt respectively.
The secret to their success has been fixing their defensive frailties which have in turn translated to confident attacking displays. Ignashevich has been assured with the ball and prompt at clearances, Mario Fernandez, the right back who became a naturalised Russian citizen in 2017, has been a revelation with his marauding runs. Zhirkov, the veteran left back from the class of 2008, has rolled back the years with inspired deliveries.
In midfield, the pivot of Zobnin and Gazinskiy have adeptly controlled the game, with Zobnin especially impressive in dictating the tempo. Cheryshev, the replacement for Dzagoev has lit the tournament with his dazzling runs in the left wing, shooting at will from his deadly left foot.
Golovin has taken up the role of Dzagoev, dovetailing in the inside channels of the opposition, creating havoc with through balls and set piece deliveries. Samedov is an ideal foil for Cheryshev and Golovin with his hard running style and ability to switch wings.
Artem Dzyuba, the towering centre forward has benefited from the variety of supply delivered by Cheryshev, Golovin and Samedov, scoring two in two.
The only caveat in Russia’s performance being the relatively weak performances from their opposition thus far, with Uruguay being their first major test.
Uruguay on the other hand, have displayed diametrically opposite results to Russia having played the same opposition in their first two games. From the outset, it might seem like the typically robust result one would expect from an Oscar Tabarez team, but closer examination suggests otherwise.
The Uruguayan teams under Tabarez in the 2010 World Cup and 2011 Copa America, eschewed possession for defensive shape and control, relying on talents like Forlan Cavani, and Suarez to score. The midfield consisting of rugged veterans such as Arvelao Rios, Diego Perez and Walter Gargano constantly harried opposition midfielders and strived to release Suarez et al into space.
The incumbent midfield of Vecino and Betancur paint a poor shadow of the midfield of yore. They haven't been able to control midfield while the wide midfield options of Nahitan Nandez, Arrascaeta, and Christian Rodriguez haven't provided the needed impetus.
Lucas Torreira was impressive from the bench against Saudi Arabia, and perhaps Tabarez could start with him and Laxalt in the midfield 4 to bring much needed spark to proceedings.
Players to watch out for: Russia Alexander Golovin: Golovin, who started the tournament as a left sided attacker, cutting into his right foot, has since taken a more central position since the unfortunate injury to Dzagoev. The youngest player in the starting XI, Golovin has been the fulcrum of Russia’s attacking ventures.
Since his natural disposition is to cut in, as a result, he creates more space for the naturally left footed Cheryshev and Zhirkov to deliver stinging balls to Dzyuba. His clever movement will pose a constant threat to an unsettled Uruguayan midfield.
Uruguay Carlos Sanchez- Sanchez was one of the two changes Tabarez made to the starting XI in the match against Saudi Arabia. He was also one of the bright lights in the game, delivering the corner for Suarez’s goal, and providing the defensive discipline expected from a wide midfielder in the Tabarez system. His experience and work ethic will be key for Uruguay to disrupt the Russian juggernaut. Predicted Lineups Russia : 1-4-2-3-1
Akinfeev- Fernandes, Kutepov, Ignashevich, Zhirkov- Gazinskiy, Zobnin- Samedov, Golovin, Cheryshev- Dzyuba
Muslera- Varela, Godin, Gimenez, Caceres- Laxalt, Bentancur, Torreira, Sanchez- Cavani, Suarez
Uruguay : 1-4-4-2