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Portugal got their World Cup 2022 campaign off to a winning start last time out, but their meeting with Ghana was more eventful than Fernando Santos would have liked. After a pretty dull first half, viewers were treated to five goals after the break, as Cristiano Ronaldo, Andre Ayew, Joao Felix, Rafael Leao and Osman Bukari all found the back of the net.
Portugal led 3-2 going into stoppage time, during which Inaki Williams almost equalized after a moment of ingenuity which saw him sneak up on opposition goalkeeper Diogo Costa, who was blissfully unaware of the striker’s presence when he rolled the ball out in front of him. Unfortunately for Ghana, Williams slipped at the vital moment.
It was not the type of match that many envisaged for Portugal’s tournament opener. The main criticism of this team under Fernando Santos is a perceived willingness to take off the handbrake. Portugal’s roster is stacked with attacking talent, which makes the tactically conservative Santos an unnatural fit.
Still, Portugal will know as well as any other team in this competition that early performances count for little if you end up reaching the latter stages. Under the management of Santos, Portugal only finished third in their Euro 2016 group before going on to win the whole thing.
Moreover, a victory of any kind is not to be sniffed at when the likes of Germany and Argentina lost their initial encounters in Qatar. Portugal gradually grew into that European Championship six years ago and they will be looking to do the same this time around. Another victory on Monday would secure their place in the round of 16 with a game to spare.
Uruguay 0-0 South Korea was the fourth goalless draw of the tournament up to that point. It was not the dullest (Morocco and Croatia share that dubious honor) but nor was it a thrilling encounter, as the scoreline suggests. Both teams picked up a point, but South Korea would have left the Education City much happier than the two-time world champions.
Uruguay were very disappointing last time out. There was no invention to their play and they struggled to unseat a solid Korean backline. Their own defense held up reasonably well, but there was no spark to Uruguay’s soccer.
That is something of a surprise given there are few better midfield trios at this World Cup than theirs. Matias Vecino, Rodrigo Bentancur and Fede Valverde are all technically gifted and comfortable in possession, but the players ahead of them did not offer enough.
It was hard to escape the conclusion that Uruguay might now be better off without Luis Suarez. The 35-year-old is very slow these days and his inability to run in behind allowed South Korea to defend higher up the pitch.
His presence up top also forced Darwin Nunez into an awkward left-sided role. The Liverpool forward has played there at club level, but Jurgen Klopp’s team usually play much higher than this Uruguay side, who tended to sit deep to avoid the 36-year-old center-back Diego Godin being exposed to pace in behind.
Diego Alonso will have had plenty to think about ahead of this game. Uruguay have always looked more comfortable when they are the underdogs, so they might actually be better suited to facing Portugal than South Korea. Regardless, a much improved performance is needed.
Matchday three of the World Cup begins on Tuesday, so this match is not quite as make-or-break as others that will follow later in the week. But Portugal do have a chance to wrap up qualification for the knockout phase with a game to spare, which would give Santos the opportunity to rest some of his key men in their final group match against South Korea.
For Uruguay there will be no such luxury, even if they win here. A defeat would not quite eliminate them either, but it would leave Alonso’s charges in a precarious position ahead of Group H’s concluding fixtures on Friday.
The Celeste finished third in South America’s notoriously difficult qualification tournament, so they are clearly a good side. But a repeat of their display against South Korea would not be good enough, especially as Portugal have the ruthlessness and invention in the final third that the Taeguk Warriors arguably lack.
Unlike many teams in this competition, Portugal have the capacity to play effective soccer both in possession and on the counter-attack. Indeed, it is possible to envisage them opening up Uruguay’s defense with a well-constructed passing move, or hurting them in transition after the ball changes hands.
Uruguay’s display last time out did not inspire confidence in their chances here, so we recommend tipping Portugal to come out on top.
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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