A place in the quarter-finals will be on the line when Uruguay meet Portugal on Saturday. THT looks at two key battles that could shape up this Round of 16 tie.
The knockout stages of the 2018 FIFA World Cup will begin with two blockbuster ties on Saturday, with the game between France and Argentina being followed up by another heavyweight clash, when Uruguay meet Portugal at Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi.
While the battle lines look set to be drawn between two of the potential dark horses to lift the Jules Rimet trophy in a fortnight’s time, there will also be a couple of personal duels that could go on to dictate who comes out on top on Saturday night. The Hard Tackles takes a look at these two key battles.
Cristiano Ronaldo vs Diego Godin
The biggest battle on the pitch will be between familiar foes who have years of experience against each other. One is Portugal’s talisman, shouldering most of the burden for the Seleccao. The other, a fantastic leader who also makes La Celeste the solid side that it is. Most importantly, both are captains of their respective sides who will have the onus on them on Saturday.
Cristiano Ronaldo has finally seemed to crack about the only code he had failed to thus far in his stellar career – becoming a force to be reckoned with at the World Cup. Now in the race to win the Golden Boot, the Portugal captain is a man on a mission as he looks to deliver the FIFA World Cup 2018 title by literally leading from the front.
Godin, on the other hand, has been a colossal figure for Uruguay on the pitch, inspiring Oscar Tabarez’s side to three successive clean sheets in as many games. By far the best defender of the tournament thus far, very little has gone past the Atletico Madrid defender. But, his Real Madrid rival at the club level is on a completely different level to the players that Godin has faced so far.
The Uruguay captain though, might be one of the few defenders is Russia who can thwart his Portugal counterpart. But, Ronaldo will need to be at his best to have any chance of getting the better of Godin, with his lung-bursting runs and deceptive movement off the defender’s shoulders being two key aspects that the veteran centre-back will need to watch out for.
Godin though, will be tough to get past, with the player boasting one of the most astute reading of the game. This has all the makings to be a classic personal battle, if the two players manage to perform at their best on the night.
Luis Suarez vs Pepe
These two haven’t locked horns for a while, but Pepe and Luis Suarez do have reasonable experience against each other from the former’s days at Real Madrid. But, while the duel between Ronaldo and Godin will be more of a battle of wits, Luis Suarez and Pepe will indulge in a more physical battle that will have major repercussions on the outcome of the game.
Suarez has been a goalscoring extraordinaire at both the club and international levels. But, he hasn’t quite been at his lethal, clinical best thus far in Russia, even though he is leading the way for Uruguay on the goalscoring charts with a couple of strikes. From another perspective though, it also means that he is a constant threat even when not at his best, making it all the more imperative for the Portugal defenders to be careful.
Pepe, on the other hand, has been an infamous figure for his volatile, often petulant nature on the field. However, the veteran defender has been focussing on keeping the opposition attackers at bay in Russia.
But while the Iran game showed that Pepe still hasn’t lost his instincts, the Spain game will provide Suarez a glaring reminder that the 35-year-old can be caught out on pace. The Portugal defender though, will aim to use all of his experience to good effect to ensure that the chances that go striker’s way are kept to a minimum as a frustrated Suarez will be ripe for the taking.
A battle that will be as enticing as the one on the opposite end, who comes out on top between Suarez and Pepe will certainly be interesting to see, with both players looking to get one over each other, by hook or by crook.