This was a match between equals. Both teams normally play direct and physical football, both normally follow the classic 4-4-2 formation, both have decent compact defense, good midfield and excellent striking power. However, on paper, I will keep Uruguay slightly in the front because they have two classic strikers in Cavani and Suarez. However, Portugal always has the potential to surprise through one Cristiano Ronaldo!
The match started with a brisk pace in line with the expectations. One of the difference between the teams is the speed of the counter attacks. While Uruguay prefers to play long balls, Portugal plays a lot of short passes to move from defense to attack. However, Portugal’s passing happens at a slower pace and so, by when the ball reaches the opponents penalty box, it gives ample time and opportunity for the Uruguan defense to organise themselves. Then they try to play the crosses with the hope that one of those balls reaches Ronaldo, who can convert that into a goal through a powerful header. But the potency of a promising attack reduces drastically because of the speed of the attack.
The Uruguan first goal came through a speedy counterattack. The long accuracy cross from Cavani from one side to reach Suarez on the other side was brilliant. That was followed by a perfect follow through center from Suarez to Cavani who followed up brilliantly and headed that home powerfully. A wonderful classic goal that comes from a well orchestrated counter attack. And you can feel the importance of having top class strikers in the team, who can turn around a half chance into a goal. I am sure teams like Germany, Argentina are looking at these strikers and thinking why the didn’t have them in their teams!
The other thing to talk about will be the compact Uruguan defense led by Godin. In a world cup where there has been a high number of goals scored, Uruguay is one team which have not conceded one goal yet in this tournament! Commendable indeed! One of the reason behind this achievement is that while defending, they do a high press near about the center half. That way, they don’t give much space to the opponents to design a move. With a 4 member defense, they create an additional 3 member layer for the high press to happen. However, the same defense was sleeping when Pepe made the header completely unmarked from a corner kick. This was a big mistake from a defense line that has done impeccable business so far.
While the finish of Cavani for Uruguay’s second goal was world class, it generated from a horrible mistake by Pepe at a point when Portugal was controlling the match. The header landed to Uruguay’s Rodrigo who played an apparently innocent square ball to Cavani on top of the box. Nobody anticipated what Cavani did next – a perfect inswinger with his right foot for a world class goal! Again, the importance of having a genuine striker in the first eleven is beyond any doubt.
Just to conclude, the following parameters made the difference:
- Effective counter attacking football can make the difference. Uruguay with just 33% ball possession wins the match 2-1
- Genuine strikers are very much needed in each team. Uruguay just had 5 shots, 3 on target and scored 2 goals. On the other hand, Portugal had 20 shots with 5 on target, but could score only one goal
- Dogged defending always pays, if you are supported by good counter attacking capabilities with genuine strikers.