Portugal Possession Pulls No Reward as Uruguay Advance to Quarter-Finals

Uruguay's forward Edinson Cavani celebrates after scoring a second goal during the Russia 2018 World Cup round of 16 football match between Uruguay and Portugal at the Fisht Stadium in Sochi on June 30, 2018. (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADS (Photo credit should read PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images)

After France and Argentina supplied arguably the most exciting World Cup knockout-stage game of recent times, and certainly the highest-scoring since Germany’s demolition of Brazil four years ago, Portugal’s Round of 16 tie against Uruguay had a lot to live up to. Many will argue that it didn’t quite reach the heights of France’s narrow win, but what it lacked in goal-scoring exploits and scintillating counter-attacks, it made for it with graft and determination.

Portugal Possession Pulls No Reward, Uruguay Advance

The scoreline of this game perhaps deceives you a little. With the way that many of the World Cup games have gone so far, it would be safe to assume that Uruguay were well on top for the majority of the game and just had a momentary lapse, allowing Portugal to score. However, it was quite the opposite.

Fernando Santos’ side controlled the game for large parts, totalling 67% of the possession compared to Uruguay’s 33%. The Portuguese also had a higher pass success rate, 86% to 68% from Uruguay; they had more shots, won more aerial duels and completed three-times as many dribbles as their opponents. However, nothing they did seemed to work. And when you have Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez playing against you, you’re likely to be punished for not taking your opportunities.

The Partnership Strikes Again

Between them, Suarez and Cavani have bagged five goals so far this tournament. After failing to hit the predicted heights in their opening game against Egypt, Suarez opened the pair’s account in the next game when they stumbled past Saudi Arabia. Both were at it in their final group game, though, as La Celeste breezed past tournament hosts Russia.

It may be Cavani that steals the limelight for their game against Portugal, but Suarez’s contribution should not be overlooked. It was his assist that provided the opening goal of the game after just seven minutes. Receiving an exceptional cross-field ball from Cavani, Suarez chested it down, took on the defender, delivered a pinpoint cross, and there was his partner to head past Rui Patricio. It was a goal of supreme quality from the Uruguayans, but it was far from a sign of what was to come.

Portugal levelled for a short period of the game, allowing Uruguay to concede for the first time in this tournament. From a corner, their defenders were understandably drawn to the aerial presence of Cristiano Ronaldo. However, Pepe has a good header on him as well, and he used it to full effect by powering past Fernando Muslera; a goal not too dissimilar to the first of John Stones’ efforts against Panama.

The goal was no more than Portugal deserved for their effort in the game, so it was unfortunate that their only other lapse in concentration came soon after. Uruguay broke quickly, leaving the Portugal defence stretched. Suarez had little involvement this time, but it didn’t matter as his partner, Cavani, curled in a beauty from the edge of the area. Opening his body up, he whipped the ball into the far corner, leaving Patricio helpless.

Ronaldo Not So Rampant

After scoring four goals in his opening two games of this World Cup, including a hat-trick against Spain, it was expected that this would be the tournament for Cristiano Ronaldo. He seemed to be on fire. He didn’t find the net in the draw against Iran, so many expected that he would be raring to go once the knockout rounds came about.

Instead, he was nowhere to be seen.

The superstar had the fewest touches of anyone on the pitch, 49, had the fewest attempted passes, 25, and had the fewest completed passes, 21.

It also means that Ronaldo bows out of the competition still having never scored a goal in the knock-out stages of a World Cup. Despite claims that he wants to play until he is 41, the 33-year-old may have missed his final opportunity to do it on the highest of high stages.

The First Quarter-Final

With yesterday’s results, the first quarter-final of this year’s World Cup was confirmed. Uruguay will take on France in the early kick-off next Friday in Nizhny Novgorod.

While France have no injury concerns for the game, Uruguay will have to monitor the fitness of one of their main men. Cavani limped off the pitch towards the end of the game, with the help of Ronaldo (it’s unclear whether this was a helpful gesture or an indication to get the game going again as quickly as possible).

After the game, Uruguay manager Oscar Tabarez said: “Yes he was injured and he felt pain. I haven’t spoken to the medical team because the match has only just finished. We don’t have a lot of time to recover. Right now, we are only worried but we don’t know how serious the injury really is.”

The Last Word

It’s difficult to estimate whether Uruguay deserved their victory or not. For all their defensive efforts and superior goal-scoring, it cannot be denied that they were outplayed for massive parts of the game.

However, they took their chances when they got them, and that’s what ultimately counts.

With Ronaldo and Messi both out of the tournament, it’s up to the other world stars such as Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Harry Kane to provide the entertainment for the remainder of the World Cup.

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