24 June 2014; 1600 hrs UTC
Estádio das Dunas, Natal
Italy and Uruguay clash in a high profile match to decide who would join Costa Rica in qualifying for the Round of 16 from Group D. Italy need a draw while Uruguay must got for the win.
The group of death of this World Cup reaches its crescendo come Tuesday as Italy and Uruguay take the field to compete for the second qualification spot in Group D. Costa Rica, after scalping both of them, have already secured qualification to the knockout stages while Italy and Uruguay’s victories in their respective games against England has left the Group D qualifications on knife’s edge. Costa Rica will be playing England simultaneously in a dead rubber so all eyes would obviously be on this match up. Uruguay need to win this to go through to the knockout rounds while a draw will do for Italy to go through on superior goal difference.
Essentially the game would be between Italy’s midfield and Uruguay’s attackers. Italy’s defence, though suspect against pace, has been solid for the major part. Their engine room is however in the Italian partnership of Daniel de Rossi and Andrea Pirlo as the two form the backbone of Italy’s midfield. Uruguay on the other hand have Suarez and Cavani who depend on guile and pace in equal parts to outwit defenses.
The two teams have met 9 times in competitive fixtures with Uruguay just edging Italy out with 3 wins to the latter’s 2 while they shared the spoils in the remaining 4 games.
Team news and tactics
Italian manager Cesare Pirandelli doesn’t have any major injury concerns going into the fixture though he may be a bit iffy about Buffon. The seasoned campaigner missed Italy’s opener against England after tweaking his ankle in training the previous day. While he did return to the starting lineup against Costa Rica, Buffon didn’t look a full 100%. The goal by Ruiz was obviously something Buffon could have done little about since it was practically squeezed into the top corner at his far post. However, Buffon was poor in covering for crosses and set pieces and had to be rescued by his defenders more than once. That said, Buffon would in all probability get the nod ahead of PSG stopper Sirigu in what may prove to be Buffon’s last World Cup match for Italy were they to lose. Buffon has loads of experience and one bad day in the office would not warrant dropping him from a lineup. He is a brilliant shot stopper and Italy could use his leadership at the back to keep the defense organised when Suarez and co. come calling.
In front of Buffon, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence to suggest that Pirandelli would abandon his favoured 4-1-4-1 formation. Chiellini is a strong defender but has shown lack of conviction when up against somebody with pace. This nearly did him in when he almost conceded a penalty via a rash challenge in the box on Joel Campbell of Costa Rica, which the referee chose to ignore. Suarez, who has a reputation for drawing fouls from opponents as well as the dubious one of diving, would be a magnet for disaster with Chiellini in the centre of defense. Expect Chiellini to be returned to the left back role that he fulfilled with relative aplomb against England. This will also give Italy some width as they go up against a narrower Uruguay midfield. This means that Darmian, who played left back against Costa Rica will be switched back to the right. Barzagli and Paletta will fill in the positions for CB. While both defenders have shown vulnerability to pace, they have been positionally sound making numerous blocks and clearances so far in the competition. They should be safe as long as they don’t try something foolish or overambitious against Cavani and Suarez.
Midfield, as stated earlier, is the heart of this Italian side and also where their most priced possession, Andrea Pirlo, plies his trade. Daniel de Rossi and Pirlo have combined well so far as the former sits back in the CDM role allowing Pirlo space in front to roam freely and create chances for the forward players. The two will surely reprise these roles in the side. Candreva will most likely play down the right flank where his combination with Darmian had proved quite potent for the Italians. Veratti and Motta have partnered Pirlo in the middle for one game each. Veratti brings some creativity to the midfield while Motta brings the assurance of experience. Expect Pirandelli to start with Veratti to try and snatch the early advantage from Uruguay. If Italy trail at half time or if Veratti is getting run over by the Uruguayan side, Motta can be subbed in. Marchisio will continue in his role on the left flank especially since Fucile may be starting on that flank.
Upfront, Balotelli is highly likely to reprise his role as the lone striker and the focal point of Italy’s attack. Balotelli has not been at his usual form for the last two games but he is a proper striker and can produce moments of brilliance that may make the difference between a goal and a shot on goal. Case in point, the opportunistic header against England.
In the game, Italy will try to overload Uruguay’s midfield with Pirlo controlling play while Rossi plays quarterback. Candreva, Veratti and Marchisio will play slightly ahead of Pirlo with either Candreva or Marchisio joining Balotelli in Uruguay’s box while the other crosses in from the flanks. Uruguay’s defense has been susceptible to crosses and the Italian midfielders would be mindful of this.
Expected starting lineup (4-1-4-1): Buffon; Darmian, Barzagli, Paletta, Chiellini; de Rossi; Candreva, Pirlo, Verrati, Marchisio; Balotelli
Manager Oscar Tabarez has a few injury headaches to deal with not the least of which involves his star player, Luis Suarez. A little over 6 weeks ago, Suarez underwent knee surgery for ligament damage and most people had written him off for participating in this World Cup. The Liverpool frontman has however defied all such odds and started the match against England, scoring a brace before going off through injury. The Uruguay camp has been very coy about the injury and we can only assume that the injury is not serious and Suarez should make the starting lineup on Tuesday. The other injury worry that Tabarez has is of Alvaro Pereira, who had passed out on the field after hitting his head against Raheem Sterling’s knee while tackling. Though he did rejoin the field, he was very poor post the incident and a lot of experts have commented that he may be concussed looking at some of the rash tackles he made later. This may rule him out of the game on Tuesday.
Muslera has hardly done much wrong between the sticks and the Galatasaray man should keep his starting spot in the team. Ahead of him, Atletico defenders Diego Godin and Gimenez are expected to start at CB. Gimenez has a good working relationship with Godin as they play together for club and country and his young age allows him to track back quickly if caught out up the field. Tabarez would look to exploit the youngsters pace to provide some support to the midfield as Gimenez might play the inverted sweeper’s role when his team press up the pitch. Uruguay captain Lugano had been shown up more than once by Campbell, Ruiz and Bolanos and somehow did not inspire the confidence required to start against Suarez and Cavani’s combination play. Caceres has been stellar going forward in attack on the right flank and Tabarez may want to test the Italian defense as Caceres provides some width to the midfield and also will help stretch Italy’s defense. Fucile should be starting on left back ahead of Maxi Pereira. Pereira was sent off in the Costa Rica race and while he has served his one match suspension during the match against England and is available for selection, Tabarez may be concerned about how the defender will cope with the wily Italian midfield as they play their high pressing line. Marchision is a tricky customer and Fucile can provide the pace needed to track the Italian midfielder.
Tabarez will in all probability switch back his midfield to a diamond formation after playing a straight four in the England game. This will help close down the space available for Pirlo to play his natural passing game. Rios will probably be entrusted with the most important duty of marking Pirlo out of the game. While it is not possible to entirely mark Pirlo out of the game, Costa Rica did prevent the Italian maestro from passing freely thus reducing his potency. Stuani and Rodriguez will take the central midfield roles while Lodeiro will play at the head of the diamond. Lodeiro’s main job would be to play the link up between Suarez and Cavani. From the England game we have seen that unlike Diego Forlan, both Suarez and Cavani freely drop into midfield to help out as well as to carry the ball forward themselves. The triangle of Lodeiro, Cavani and Suarez would be most under threat from de Rossi as he will try to shut down play build up. Chiellini also has a habit of cutting into a more central position and will be available to help out de Rossi in defending from the trio.
Uruguay’s best bet would be to primarily man mark Pirlo to shut down his passing. Suarez and Cavani are slippery customers and they will look to slip in behind the back four. While Cavani has not been as potent in front of goal for Uruguay as he has been for PSG last season but his movement is good and he can put in a mean cross. Talismanic striker Suarez on the other hand is a player who can draw out 3 defenders on his own before crossing to a team mate in space. Lodeiro will need to move with Suarez and Cavani so as not to increase the gap between midfield and the forwards too much. The diamond midfield would be critical to maintain their insulation against the Italian midfield. Lodeiro will also come handy here to drop into the midfield proper while defending to convert it to a three man midfield temporarily. Italy would be aware of Uruguay’s midfield playing down the middle and would try to overload the flanks. Uruguay would do well to maintain their shape and try and cover as many open spaces as possible as the temptation to break formation and get drawn to the ball could prove fatal with Rossi and Marchisio an ever present threat near their box. Uruguay would obviously source all their attacks through Suarez and hope that their superstar player can drag them over the line and into the knockout phase.
Expected starting lineup (4-1-2-1-2): Muslera; Caceres, Godin, Gimenez, Fucile; Arevalo Rios; Stuani, Rodriguez; Lodeiro; Suarez, Cavani
Players to Watch Out For
Andrea Pirlo (Italy)
Pirlo has had his fair share of highs and lows from the FIFA World Cup. He was a member of the Italian squad that lifted the trophy in 2006 as well as the squad that suffered the ignominy of crashing out of their title defense in 2010 without winning a single game. Even before the start of the World Cup, Pirlo had announced that this would be his last World Cup. The midfield maestro would surely look to go out on a high and the first step towards that is to ensure his country’s qualification for the Round of 16. Pirlo’s mobility has suffered with the vagaries of age but what he has lost in mobility, he has made up in vision. It is not uncommon for the regista to play a key pass to unlock an opposition defense and lead up to a goal. Pirlo’s dummy to set up the chance for Marchisio against England showed that while the Italian playmaker may be playing his last World Cup, he is by no means to be taken lightly. Against Uruguay, Pirlo would be particularly required to hold the ball in his own half and then distribute it forward without losing possession. Italy only need to draw the game to qualify for the elimination round but rest assured that Pirlo will play to secure an Italian victory.
Luis Suarez (Uruguay)
It was well known that the Liverpool striker was integral to Uruguay’s success in the 2014 FIFA World Cup being held in Brazil. It was, therefore, a huge concern for Uruguay supporters when Suarez picked up an injury in the game against Newcastle near the end of last year’s EPL season. He underwent a surgery for ligament injury in the knee just about six weeks ago and was expected to miss the tournament entirely. Yet Suarez has beaten all odds to not only complete a recovery but also start Uruguay’s second game of the tournament, against England where he even managed to score a brace. Suarez is a dynamic footballer and when not diving or engaging in other nefarious deeds, he is more than a handful for the best defenses in the world. His ball control is immense and he has the skill to single handedly pull defenses out of shape. Against Italy on Tuesday, Uruguay need Suarez to continue from where he left off against England. The Italian defense is susceptible to pace and has been shown up more than once by the forwards of both England and Costa Rica. Suarez will be the cog in the wheel that can drive Uruguay’s World Cup cart to the levels they achieved in 2010 and beyond. That journey begins now where Suarez’s immediate duty would be to ensure that Uruguay walk out winners from this important tie.
Italy 1-2 Uruguay
Blast from the Past
Italy and Uruguay have met recently in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup also held in Brazil last year. The match finished 2-2 after extra time with the Italians walking away with the spoils after the penalty shooutout that ended 3-2 in their favour. Gianluigi Buffon was the star of the penalty shootout for Italy.