Two surprisingly commanding performances from Costa Rica have left two traditional powerhouses in Uruguay and Italy to fight it out for the second qualifying spot in Group D. Both teams entered the World Cup being labelled as potential contenders by bookmakers, who were intrigued by the explosive offensive potential that each side has, headlined by two strikers with immeasurable ceilings in Luis Suarez and Mario Balotelli.
Both nations showed glimpses of this against the supposedly stronger side in England, yet faltered against the unknown commodity of Costa Rica. Now, thanks to these blunders, Uruguay and Italy have been tossed into an undesirable knockout encounter half a week early, in a match where both teams need their vaunted attacks to flourish to their full capabilities.
Tactics and line-ups
Italian coach Cesare Prandelli has been hamstrung in his defensive selections for the first two matches due to the calf injury of his sole left-back, Mattia de Sciglio, who himself is not a natural left-back. The results of this defensive shuffle have been far from promising, as centre back Gabriel Paletta was unable to cope with the nimble movement of the English attack, while Ignazio Abate was unable to cope with Costa Rica’s attacks down his right hand side. As a result, Prandelli may have no choice but to chance de Sciglio, who is back in full training, against a Uruguay attack far more potent than anything Italy have faced yet. This will allow him to restore Matteo Darmian to the right back position from which he terrorised England as a crossing threat when overlapping Antonio Candreva.
A leg injury seems set to keep de Rossi from the pitch, which will likely force Prandelli to play the trio of Andrea Pirlo, Marco Verratti and Thiago Motta. Due to his familiarity with the position, Prandelli would also be well advised to play Pirlo slightly in front of the defence, a position which Daniele de Rossi has occupied so far this tournament. This will also excuse Pirlo from joining in the efforts of Verratti and Thiago Motta to press aggressively and prevent Uruguay from gaining any sort of control over the match. With the Darmian-Candreva partnership restored, Italy will look to direct traffic down Uruguay’s left hand side towards the defensively challenged Alvaro Pereira, leaving centre-back turned right-back Martin Caceres isolated when dealing with the runs of Mattia de Sciglio, an adept crosser in his own right. Furthermore, should Italy find themselves needing a goal, look for Prandelli to substitute a winger like Lorenzo Insigne on for Marchisio to spread the Uruguay defence, giving Balotelli more space and putting a greater defensive onus on Uruguay’s defensively shaky fullbacks.
Uruguay, buoyed by the return of their talisman, Luis Suarez, will likely maintain the winning formula that worked against England. Edinson Cavani will assume the role of aggressively pressuring Italy’s main creative outlet in Andrea Pirlo, as he did with great success to Steven Gerrard. This should be made easier by Pirlo’s deeper position, although Pirlo is well accustomed to such pressure, possessing an effortless pirouette and surprising strength to fight off the challenges of markers on a weekly basis. Still, Italy may be forced to rely on Verratti and Thiago Motta more than they like, who have been disappointing in the tournament thus far.
What Uruguay’s left flank lacks in defensive stability, they make up with offensive potential. The tandem of Cristian Rodriguez and Alvaro Pereira can create chances in an instant, and Tabarez will likely view Pereira’s offense as his best defensive tool, by encouraging Pereira to push up and keep Candreva in his own half. With Suarez gaining a valuable 90 minutes of match fitness, Tabarez may be inclined to expand Suarez’ role by asking him to provide in a creative role, rather than letting him hang off the last defender’s shoulder as he did against England. Doing so would allow Cavani to return to his favoured role of poacher, where he would be able to use his superior pace and strength to get the better of Barzagli, particularly in open space.
The high calibre of these two teams is such that execution of tactical schemes will decide the match rather than individual brilliance. For Italy, particularly in the absence of de Rossi, a fluid offensive performance will be required to utilise the offensive talents of Balotelli and Candreva in particular. Marchisio is often forgotten amongst Italy’s more acclaimed talents, but his role in filling the gap between the midfield and Balotelli is vital, as are his threatening runs past the last defender when Balotelli is able to produce a moment of creative brilliance. For Uruguay, without the midfield prowess that Italy can call upon, their strategy relies on exploiting the offensive explosiveness of their two star strikers by supplying them frequently and rapidly, typified by Uruguay’s second goal against England which was sparked by a long aerial ball.
Ultimately Italy’s slow tempo of play and sturdy centre back partnership of Barzagli and Chiellini should neutralise Uruguay’s attack to a certain extent. Uruguay’s fullbacks have been a cause for concern this tournament, and the reunited tandem of Candreva and Darmian should prove vital in creating chances and stifling Uruguay’s most potent offensive flank, leaving them one-dimensional in their approach.
Italy 2-1 Uruguay