Uruguay will be hoping to book their place in the quarter-finals of the 2019 Copa America when they take on Japan at Arena do Gremio.

Matchday 2 of the 2019 Copa America group stage will culminate with two Group C fixtures. The first of these ties will see one of the pre-tournament favourites, Uruguay locking horns with Japan, with a chance to ensure safe passage through to the knockout stages of the competition.

Uruguay have been on quite a run since the turn of the year, having won each of their four games so far in 2019. What has been even more remarkable is the fact that they are yet to concede a goal this year, and La Celeste continued the phenomenal run with an emphatic 4-0 win over Ecuador in their Copa America opener.

Japan, on the other hand, have experienced a mixed bag of results in 2019, having managed to win just two of their five games (D1 L2) since their disappointing AFC Asian Cup final defeat at the hands of Qatar. And, the invitees’ Copa America campaign began in disastrous fashion as Chile handed them a humbling 4-0 loss on Matchday 1.

Japan and Uruguay have previously clashed just seven times, with the last such fixture ending in the Blue Samurai’s favour – a pulsating 4-3 win. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the Copa America encounter.

Team News & Tactics

Uruguay

Uruguay will be aiming to build on their dominant win over Ecuador. (Photo by Juliana Flister/Getty Images)

Uruguay will be aiming to build on their dominant win over Ecuador. (Photo by Juliana Flister/Getty Images)

Uruguay may have coasted to victory over 10-man Ecuador earlier this week. But, the win came at a cost for La Celeste, with Oscar Tabarez losing the services of key midfielder Matias Vecino, who has picked up a thigh injury that will render him unavailable for the rest of the tournament.

The Uruguay head coach will thus, be forced into making at least one change to what looked like a complete side against Ecuador. The possible replacement options for Tabarez to consider are Lucas Torreira and Federico Valverde, with the former likely to get the nod against Japan.

The rest of the side is unlikely to see any changes, with Tabarez known to be a firm believer in the well known adage “Why fix something that isn’t broken”. And so, Uruguay will line up in Tabarez’s typical 4-4-2 formation, with the full-backs – Martin Caceres and Diego Laxalt – largely providing the width.

Diego Godin and Jose Maria Gimenez will form a solid central defensive partnership that will provide cover to Fernando Muslera in goal. Up ahead in midfield, Torreira will accompany Rodrigo Bentancur in the central areas of the pitch, with Nicolas Lodeiro and Nahitan Nandez being the wide midfielders.

Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani ought to continue in the potent strike partnership and the duo will look to continue with their goalscoring ways against Japan after netting a goal each last time out.

Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Muslera; Caceres, Gimenez, Godin, Laxalt; Nandez, Torreira, Bentancur, Lodeiro; Suarez, Cavani

Uruguay

Japan

On paper it looks as if Japan were blown out of the park by Chile in their opening Copa America 2019 game. But, the Blue Samurai were actually quite competitive and would be lamenting the excellent opportunities they spurned over the course of the game.

Having said that, one major issue in the side was the ineffectiveness of Ayase Ueda in front of goal. The 20-year-old might be the only major change that Hajime Moriyasu makes against Uruguay, with Shinji Okazaki expected to replace him and don the armband for Japan.

Real Madrid’s latest signing Takefusa Kubo is expected to keep his place in the strike partnership, where he will play off Okazaki. Meanwhile, like Okazaki, Gaku Shibasaki is a player who will have a lot of responsibility on his shoulders.

Alongside Okazaki, Shibasaki is the only other outfield player who has over 35 appearances under his belt for the national side and he will need to use his experience to guide a young side against a cultured opponent like Uruguay. The 27-year-old will likely have Yuta Nakayama for company, with Nakayama playing the Anchor Man role.

Daizen Maeda, who was one of seven players to make their debuts in Japan’s opening Copa America fixture, should keep his place on the right flank, from where he will look to move infield and create overloads in the central areas alongside Kubo, Okazaki and Shoya Nakajima.

At the back, the young and inexperienced full-backs Teruki Hara and Daiki Sugioka will likely keep their places. The 20-year-old duo will be tasked with providing the width in the final third while also being present when Uruguay move forward. The full-back pairing will hope to be guided at the back by Naomichi Ueda and Takehiro Tomiyasu.

Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Osako; Hara, Naomichi Ueda, Tomiyasu, Sugioka; Maeda, Shibasaki, Nakayama, Nakajima; Kubo, Okazaki

Japan

Key Stats

  • Uruguay boast a strong record in their head-to-head battle with Japan, having prevailed in four of the seven meetings between the two sides (D1 L2).
  • Uruguay are unbeaten in their four games so far in 2019, having kept a clean sheet in each of those fixtures. La Celeste have remarkably netted 14 goals in this period.
  • By contrast, Japan have failed to keep a clean sheet in each of their last four games.
  • The Blue Samurai have only managed to win two of their last six games (D1 L3), with one of the losses including their AFC Asian Cup final defeat.
  • Edinson Cavani scored his first Copa America goal in the 4-0 win over Ecuador. It was his 11th appearance in the competition.

Player to Watch

Shinji Okazaki

Will the experienced striker deliver in the crunch situation? (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

Will the experienced striker deliver in the crunch situation? (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

Hajime Moriyasu has picked a highly inexperienced squad for the 2019 Copa America in what is believed to be with an eye on next year’s Olympics in Tokyo. Having said that, Japan seem to be sorely lacking goalscorers, with veteran striker Shinji Okazaki the only player to have netted goals in the double figures for the Blue Samurai.

In fact, if one removes Okazaki’s goals, Japan have seen the rest of the team score just nine goals. Therefore, it is undeniable that the onus will be on the 33-year-old to come to the fore for Japan, if they are to get off the mark in the competition, lest they risk an early ouster.

Prediction

Uruguay 2-0 Japan

The match pits two sides that seem to be on the opposite end of the spectrum as far as form is concerned. While there seems to be no stopping Uruguay, Japan are a side that lack experience at the top level and it showed in the heavy defeat to Chile.

The lack of experience could be a telling factor once again for the Blue Samurai, although the return of Shinji Okazaki could add to their potency in front of goal. Having said that, with Diego Godin and Jose Maria Gimenez forming an almost impregnable partnership, one can expect La Celeste to keep yet another clean sheet.

On the other end, Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez mean business and the duo could be on target once again on Friday. The Hard Tackle predicts a 2-0 win for Uruguay, which should see them book a place in the 2019 Copa America quarter-finals.