Portugal and Uruguay meet in Sochi in an intriguing Round of 16 encounter. Portugal narrowly avoided defeat and subsequent elimination to Iran while Uruguay qualified comfortably, one of three teams to win all their Group Stage games. Structurally, both teams have similarities such as an experienced defence, a misfiring midfield, and a potent strike force making it a tight match up. Both teams, moreover, retain the core of the side which led them to continental success with big match temperament abundant.
In a controversy filled second half against Iran, Portugal were in danger of being eliminated by former national team coach, Carlos Queiroz. The midfield did not seem to control the game and suffered from a wave of counter attacks. Had Sardar Azmoun converted his one on one chance in the dying stages of the game, the story in front of us would have been completely different. Portugal were extremely lucky to win against Morocco as well, surviving two strong penalty appeals as they somehow managed to thwart the Moroccan attack. Fernando Santos will be aware that his team hasn’t convinced thus far and will look to iron out the kinks in midfield to emerge successful against a robust Uruguay. Similar to Argentina, Portugal face issues in controlling the midfield tempo. Filled with box to box and holding midfielders, Portugal need a midfielder who can make offensive passes while simultaneously ensuring the quick rotation of the ball through short balls. Moutinho, the veteran midfielder, is one player in the Portuguese roster who can fulfill these functions with aplomb, with his absence from the starting XI clearly showing in the below par show against Iran. Santos may opt to pair Moutinho with defensive midfielder William Carvalho in a 4-4-2 formation. Joao Mario in all likelihood should start as a wide midfielder on the left, while Ricardo Quaresma should retain his place in right wing after a positive display and wonder goal against Iran. The strike partner for Cristiano Ronaldo is another conundrum, with both Goncalo Guedes and Andre Silva failing to score. Against a physical Uruguay, Santos may start with Milan striker, Andre Silva.
After lacklustre performances against Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Oscar Tabarez managed Uruguay wrung changes to this formation and the starting lineup against Russia. From a 4-4-2, he shifted to a 3-5-2, giving starts to Nahitan Nandez, Diego Laxalt and Lucas Torreira. Torriera was impressive at the base of midfield, breaking attacks, and releasing the likes of Suarez and Laxalt into space. Laxalt was a welcome change from the solid but unadventurous Caceres at left wing back, providing the assist for Suarez’s goal. Getting Cavani on the scoresheet was another positive for the Latin Americans, as they look well set to challenge Portugal. Tabarez will bank on his young midfield trio of Vecino, bentancur, and Torriera to win the midfield battle and expose the likes of Pepe and Jose Fonte in one on one situations against the strike pairing of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez.
Player to Watch
Ricardo Quaresma: In an area filled with inverted wingers who prefer to cut inside, Quaresma is a refreshing anomaly, a player who is comfortable playing as an out and out winger, confronting the opposing wing back directly, and as a result providing an extra dimension of width to the attacks. After many a false start, Ricardo Quaresma at the age of 32 finally looks settled for both club and country, delivering on years of promise. A virtuoso performance from Quaresma will test the young wingback, Laxalt, and help Portugal in dictating the game according to their terms.
Martin Caceres: Versatility in football can prove to be a boon or bane for the player concerned. In the case of Caceres, his versatility has proven to be both. Since he can play anywhere across the defence, as well as play in holding midfield, he has not been able to hold a starting spot in teams such as Southampton and Juventus. Frequent injuries too have not helped Caceres’ cause in terms of club football. But for the national team, it is this very malleability which renders him to be held in high regard. Against an in form Cristiano Ronaldo, and the threat of Silva and Quaresma, it will be the tactical awareness and canny of Caceres which may crucial to thwarting Portuguese ventures.
Rui Patrício- Cédric, Pepe, José Fonte, Guerriero- Quaresma, Moutinho, Carvalho, João Mário- André Silva, Cristiano Ronaldo
Muslera- Nández, Giménez, Godín, Cáceres, Laxalt- Vecino, Torreira, Bentancur- Suarez, Cavani