Now that the 2018 FIFA World Cup has reached the knockout round, it’s officially on now. Here’s the full in-depth preview.
Uruguay vs. Portugal
The first match of the knockout stage will feature Group A winner Uruguay against Group B runner-up Portugal.
In what came as not too big of a shock, Uruguay won all three of its matches in arguably the weakest World Cup group. Uruguay has always prided itself on being a team with a prolific attack featuring Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani, but it was Uruguay’s defense that shined in the group stage. Anchored by center backs Diego Godin and Jose Maria Gimenez, Uruguay’s defense allowed a total of zero goals during the group stage.
Now, most people won’t put a lot of weight on this given a) the level of opposition and b) the fact that Uruguay’s keeper saw a mere seven shots on goal, but don’t discount the fact that Uruguay’s defense is now comfortable playing together. Is that enough to beat a team like Portugal? More on that later. But the path to victory for Uruguay is simple—attack Raphael Guerreiro and Bruno Soares out wide and put A lot of balls into Suarez and Cavani. Both must convert on their chances in order to force Cristiano Ronaldo to produce a spectacular performance.
On the other hand, Portugal employs the very sophisticated “Kicking and Screaming” strategy of “kick it to the Italians!” Except, in this case, the Italians are Cristiano Ronaldo, who has four goals so far. The fact that CR7 is carrying the squad is no surprise to people (honestly, let’s just be thankful he doesn’t have all the Portugal goals).
The 2016 Euro champions do have a tendency to play to the level of their competition (see 3-3 draw against Spain, 1-1 draw against Iran) and have not been past the round of 16 since 2006. This matchup is all about which Portugal shows up – is it the team that won the Euros, or the team that barely beat last-place Morocco? Either way, expect this match to be won or lost in the midfield for Portugal. Yes, we all know Cristiano is incredibly talented, but if Uruguay can possess the ball and convert its chances, it could be a very long afternoon for the Portuguese.
Matchup to Watch – Bernardo Silva vs. Diego Laxalt/Martin Caceres
Arguably a big surprise this World Cup is Bernardo Silva’s lack of form. In 35 appearances for Manchester City this past season (20 as a sub), Silva produced six goals and four assists. One would think he would fit perfectly into Portugal’s attack, but so far—no goals, no assists. He’s facing a matchup in either Diego Laxalt or Martin Caceres, which isn’t exactly intimidating. Laxalt is a hybrid midfielder/defender but played left back in Uruguay’s last match (Caceres had the other two starts).
Portugal could really use a solid outing from Silva, if for no other reason than to lift some weight off Cristiano Ronaldo’s already sore shoulders. However, if Silva doesn’t produce, Uruguay can be confident that it is literally placing the weight of the world on CR7’s shoulders and is giving itself the best chance to win.
Prediction – Uruguay 3, Portugal 2
Simply put, expect a back-and-forth match here. Portugal continues to rely on Ronaldo, but he also gets some help in this match. Uruguay has to concede at some point, and Ronaldo is just the guy to do it! However, Uruguay has history on its side, and its counter-attack is quite good. A late goal from Luis Suarez pushes Uruguay through to the quarterfinals.