This time, Uruguay’s Suarez and Portugal captain Ronaldo will play for a berth in the World Cup quarterfinals, with both players the focal points for their respective sides.
Here’s a closer look at the key battles ahead of Saturday’s round of 16 clash.
Luis Suarez vs Cristiano Ronaldo
Suarez’s showing at the World Cup has essentially been a microcosm of his entire season at Barcelona. A slow start with a poor display in Uruguay’s first game, an improved but still unconvincing showing in their second, and then, in their final group stage game, he looked back to near his best. If that trend continues, he will be a menace for Portugal.
Ronaldo edged out Suarez in their personal head-to-head in La Liga this season, scoring one more goal than his rival despite playing in fewer games. His penalty miss against Iran notwithstanding, the Portuguese striker has been every bit the talismanic presence for his side, serving as an inspiration for his team through the sheer quality of his performances.
Rodrigo Bentancur vs Joao Moutinho
Bentancur has been the biggest beneficiary of Uruguay manager Oscar Tabarez’s immense confidence in the country’s rising stars. The 21-year-old is still finding his feet at this stage, and he hasn’t quite justified a starting berth for his country at the World Cup. It’s a huge responsibility for the Juventus youngster, but he needs to start justifying his manager’s faith.
Moutinho remains a solid, reliable performer in the Portugal midfield, helping his side maintain possession and serving as one of his team’s chief creative forces. Portugal have several players not named Ronaldo capable of starring on any given night, and Moutinho is one of them. He’ll need to be somewhere close to that level on Sunday to lead his side past Uruguay.
Diego Godin vs Pepe
Diego Godin has been his typical, warrior-like self for Uruguay at the World Cup, putting in battling and commanding displays to help his side to three wins in the group stages. As always, when his side have been under the cosh, it’s Godin who’s been the one to rally them. He’ll relish the duel with Ronaldo.
Pepe and Godin had some memorable Madrid derby clashes during the Portugal defender’s time at Real Madrid, and he’ll want to outshine his Atletico Madrid counterpart on Saturday. He’ll also no doubt be looking forward to renewing hostilities with Suarez – another old El Clasico rivalry just. Expect Pepe to give his former adversaries a pointed reminder of his quality.
Dark horse meets dark horse in Kaliningrad, but both England and Belgium have already bolted into the knockout rounds.
Consequently this clash is likely to lack the razor-edge intensity that so many of these players revel in when on Premier League duty, yet there are still plenty of intriguing plot threads to follow.
FIRST IS WORST?
Firstly – do either side really want to claim the top spot in this group? It is presumptuous to look beyond the round of 16, but a huge threat in the World Cup’s most successful nation looms large in the quarter-finals.
A shocking 2-0 defeat to South Korea in their final group fixture has seen a disappointing Germany side remove themselves from the equation but with Brazil finishing as winners in Group E, that presents a dilemma for England and Belgium.
Should England and Belgium play out a draw it will come down to ‘fair play’ points based on the amount of bookings and red cards received – with the Three Lions currently leading that particular statline by one.
Will Roberto Martinez and Gareth Southgate be tempted to order their fringe players to deal out a little hack-and-slash in the latter stages? It seems a needless exercise given the permutations.
“For our country, that would be a very difficult mindset to have,” Southgate explained when asked whether he is tempted to rein in his team.
“We want to win every game of football we go into. I don’t know how we would go into a game not wanting to win and not wanting to play well.”
Avoiding top spot could mean the dubious prize of facing Colombia in the next round. James Rodriguez’s side are quite clearly the pick of Group H after shredding Poland 3-0, but may not reach the summit given their 10-man defeat to Japan.
DRESS TO IMPRESS
The other reason why there is unlikely to be any obvious shenanigans on Thursday are the fresh and frustrated legs due to take the field.
Southgate has, meanwhile, spoken about the need to fortify team spirit by giving minutes to those who have been bored bench-warmers so far. The former defender knows the feeling too well, having spoken of his ennui when he failed to a play a single second as an England squad member at the 2002 World Cup.
There are selection debates to be settled, too. Southgate would lend serious thought to starting Marcus Rashford over Raheem Sterling alongside Harry Kane should the Manchester United man twist Belgium out of shape.
Eric Dier played a key role in qualification and will also need to be seasoned if the England boss elects to shore up his midfield and play a No4 alongside an in-form Jordan Henderson.
Mousa Dembele, so brilliant for Tottenham in long stretches last season, will be a Belgian to look out for and Vincent Kompany is ‘medically fully fit’ to stick his hand up at the back.
DEFENCE THE FIRST LINE OF ATTACK
Neither of these defences have been severely tested in Russia, though there have been some flaws in their desultory examinations so far.
Kyle Walker’s unwitting forearm smash that led to Tunisia’s equaliser sparked questions over his positional awareness as a centre-back – facing the goal and not having a clue where the incoming attacker was, a mistake that Rio Ferdinand judged ‘criminal’.
Belgium were also ruffled by Tunisia at set-pieces and on the flanks, with Yannick Carrasco and Thomas Meunier two superb attacking outlets that don’t give too many thoughts to the defence.
It’ll be more informational from a system perspective than personnel-wise given the expected raft of changes, as neither side will drift too far away from their established norms in the knockouts. England’s high-octane 3-1-4-2 against Belgium’s bold 3-4-3 will certainly inject some life into this dead rubber.
Colombia are facing a critical match against Senegal in Group H on Thursday, with a berth in the Round of 16 on the line.
After falling to Japan in their World Cup opener, Colombia bounced back with a convincing 3-0 victory over Poland in their second game.
Defender Yerry Mina believes the team still have to address their flaws if they want to overcome Senegal and advance in the tournament.
“I think all the squads are strong, anyone can beat you,” Mina said. We are working to fix our mistakes and make fewer of them when we are playing.”
See Mina’s full comments and what team-mate Juan Cuadrado in the video below.