The World Cup has reached the tense stage of the last 16, with the first knockout games taking place later today. Russia 2018 has produced some highly entertaining fare so far.
One of the knockout stage games to take place today is an intriguing clash between Uruguay and Portugal. This game could indeed go either way, as both teams have their qualities.
Cristiano Ronaldo the obvious threat to Uruguay
One of the major defining factors in this encounter could be how Uruguay’s defence handles the amble talents of Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo. The 33-year-old netted four times in the first two group stage games, only to miss a penalty in a 1-1 draw against Iran that saw the Selecao finish runners-up in Group B behind neighbours Spain.
Portugal may have a solid team. However, Ronaldo is no doubt the Selecao’s star man. At times, it seems he drags his national team through games and in the case of Euro 2016 whole tournaments.
In Russia, Ronaldo’s goals earned his team four of the five points they accrued in Group B. Some would argue that without him, Fernando Santos’ team is average, with some decent players, but not top-level performers.
Uruguay solid in defence
One of the most impressive facets of Uruguay’s displays in the group stages has been their defensive solidity, which they are going to need if the South Americans are going to prevent Ronaldo from finding the net.
The Uruguayan central defensive pair of Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez are highly familiar with Ronaldo, as both play for Real Madrid’s arch-rivals Atletico. The pair have endured mixed fortunes against Portugal’s star player in La Liga.
However, if anybody can subdue Ronaldo, it is Godin and Gimenez. Godin is one of the centre-backs in the world game. The 32-year-old’s positioning, leadership and calm demeanour have helped his club side compete with Spain’s two big boys. For La Celeste, he marshals the backline with a minimum of fuss.
Gimenez is highly-rated and developing into one of the most highly-rated young players in Europe. The youngster missed Uruguay’s final group game against Russia through a slight injury. However, he is expected to start in Saturday’s clash.
If the pair can keep Ronaldo quiet, then there is a good chance that the South Americans will be the ones booking their place in the last 16 of the competition.
Portugal slight favourites to progress
It surprised me that Portugal are slight favourites to beat Uruguay at 15/8, while La Celeste are odds of 2/1 to record a victory.
I fancy Uruguay to have too much for Portugal. Not only are they defensively sound, but La Celeste also have the highly dangerous strike-partnership of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani.
The prolific frontmen come up against veteran centre-backs Pepe and Jose Fonte on Saturday. I know who my money would be on from that clash. Pepe is a smart defender, who likes a bit of theatrics. However, Cavani and Suarez are admirers of amateur dramatics as well, so it could be an exciting battle. Jose Fonte’s more your old fashioned solid centre-back.
These two teams are just below the top teams when it comes to football hierarchy. However, both have talented players in their teams that could prove to be matchwinners.
This game could be one of the more even knockout stage clashes in the last 16. It will be fascinating to see who comes out on top and moves on to the quarter-finals of the competition.
Who will come out on top between Uruguay and Portugal?
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