World Cup 2018: The Uruguayan challenge for Portugal
Football is truly a game of mixed emotions and these emotions rise to their highest when it concerns the FIFA World Cup.
Yes, if it gave Russia the joy of qualifying this year to the round of 16 with a match in hand, then it also broke the hearts of an inspired Iranian force against Portugal on Tuesday night. With the group stage in its last phase, the teams that have made it to the knockout phase are more or less pretty evident.
The exit of Portugal in the group stage of 2014 seems to be a distant memory now. The European champions came into the tournament with their head held high, and have also shown time and again that this side is an outfit that cannot be shrugged off easily.
If it was an inspired Leo Messi’s Argentina which reached the final of the last edition of the World Cup, then this year it is Cristiano Ronaldo’s tireless working Portuguese squad which has made it to the round of 16 despite all the hiccups that came its way in the group stage.
It all started against Spain, where a determined Cristiano Ronaldo pulled the team out of a self-dug hole courtesy of his hat trick which included a last-minute free-kick that decided the fate of the match.
Then the side faced and beat an attacking Morocco thanks to the diving header of the skipper which gave them the lead. They held on despite the fact that Nordin Amrabat and co looked dangerous every time they came forward.
The biggest challenge this side has faced was on Tuesday night against the resolute Iranian outfit. The Iranian squad which is famously known for its defence did not allow Portugal and Ronaldo the space which he enjoyed in the last two matches.
Still the side was able to squeeze a draw and was successful enough to finish the group in second place just behind Spain.
It won’t be wrong to say that the success of Portugal this year is mainly because of its star player, Cristiano Ronaldo. The Real Madrid goal scorer has finally replicated his La Liga form and has shown what he is capable of.
Aside the penalty against Iran which he miserably missed, he has barely put a foot wrong in this year’s mega event. Iran’s defensive ability kept him quiet for most of the game. Iran denied him goal scoring opportunities and barely let him create chances for his teammates.
With Portugal finishing second in the group, it now locks horns with an unstoppable force in the form of Uruguay, who are definitely feeling confident due to their great run in the group stage.
Though the South American team was also knocked out in the first round of the last edition, this team has made its initial mark by qualifying for the round of 16 this year without a single defeat in the group stage.
The team looked patchy in the first match against Egypt, but it certainly found its form in the second match against Saudi Arabia before finding its rhythm in the third match where it dented the confidence of the host nation Russia and defeated them 0-3.
With Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani also finding their majestic form before the all-important knockout phase of the World Cup and the experience of Diego Godin and co in defense, this team has become an important contender of at least reaching the semifinals of this edition of the FIFA World Cup.
There will be a lot of thinking for the Portuguese coach Fernando Santos to do as facing a team like Uruguay is never easy considering the firepower it possesses in its attack and how solid it is in defence as, it is yet to concede a goal in the competition.
One thing to keep in check for Portugal is the creativity in the midfield, Joao Mario has evidently looked out of sorts, and the rest of the midfield have not been able to support the front line in terms of any sort of potential supply.
Meanwhile, the Uruguayan side will be aware of the famous fact of blocking Ronaldo and choking the rest of the squad - the Iranian team did this in the group stage and it was effective.
Portugal has played up to its expected standards this year and has certainly caught the eyes of the footballing faithful this World Cup. Portugal playing Uruguay is definitely going to be a sensational match.
Will it be Cristiano Ronaldo leading his side into the next knockout phase or will it be the Cavani and Suarez duo leading Uruguay beyond the round of 16? Have your say in the comments.