World Cup matches are often defined by the memories they leave behind. And while Uruguay and Portugal never reached impressive highs for too long or too often, it was certainly a terrific knockout stage match. One to remember.
Edinson Cavani was the hero. A brace, twice putting Uruguay in the lead – first in the 7th minute, then in the 62nd minute, with Pepe’s equalizer sandwiched in between. Luis Suarez set up the first goal, and his ability to draw so much attention to himself helped Cavani score the second, along with Pepe’s knack for poor timing when trying to intercept passes.
Cristiano Ronaldo left no mark on the match. Mostly misses and free kicks hitting walls. Well, he did get official written into it with a yellow card, screaming a the referee for not calling a foul in favor of Ricardo Quaresma. That booking would have kept him out of the next match. But like Messi, this might have been Ronaldo’s final World Cup match. His overall carbon footprint on the tournament over the years is even less significant than Messi’s, who did make a run for the final four years ago.
But we’re done with the Messi-Ronaldo chat for this tournament. Uruguay, now facing France, showed a masterclass in football efficiency and minimalism. They rarely sought to attack, but when they did, looked dangerous and aggressive, unlike Portugal, constantly trying the same thing against a well prepared and well coordinated defense, led by Diego Godin.
This might be Uruguay’s swan song in the tournament after the semifinal in 2010, round of 16 appearance in 2014 and who knows where to this year, with a 2011 Copa America title, their first since 1995, attaching some silverware to a golden generation’s run. Suarez and Cavani don’t seem to have World Class replacements waiting for them on the bench, so Uruguay will try to make the most of their run, before uncertainty creeps in.
The same can be said for Portugal, a side often punching above their weight in European tournaments, but rarely one that makes an impact in the World Cup, for whatever reason. There’s talent, but nothing that speaks out loud: We’re in good hands once Ronaldo retires. While Uruguay have their next match in this tournament to think about, for Portugal looking to the future suddenly became reality.
We won’t see something different from Uruguay in their match against France. The presence of Cavani will make it easier to execute their plan of doing as little as possible, but making the most of every opening they find in France’s defense. France, unlike Portugal, do not rely on one super player, yet have more ways of hurting Uruguay, who have no lost their perfect defensive record in this tournament, without being too sad about it I imagine.
If there’s one thing we can say about the first two matches in the round of 16 is that they showed Group Stage abilities matter. Argentina were poor and got knocked out. Portugal, aside from Ronaldo’s hat trick in the draw with Spain, never impressed. Uruguay didn’t make children fall in love with the sport, but they’ve done exactly what they planned in each match, and done it well, and for this deserve the spot in the final 8 more than Portugal.