Edinson Cavani steals the show and other talking points as Uruguay beat Portugal to enter World Cup last eight

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Edinson Cavani stole the show from Luis Suarez and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Uruguay booked their place in the World Cup quarter-finals with an excellent 2-1 win over Portugal on Saturday.

Edinson Cavani‘s two goals upstaged colleague Luis Suarez and Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo, who was expertly shackled by Uruguay’s defence and barely got a sniff of goal in this game.

Here are three talking points from Uruguay’s win.

CAVANI STEALS TOP BILLING WITH SUPER SHOW

Not that anyone believed Cavani isn’t a star player in his own right, but when Luis Suarez and Cristiano Ronaldo were given top billing for this game, it wasn’t the least bit controversial, even though there are plenty who think Cavani has surpassed Suarez as his country’s top player.

No matter. On Saturday, Cavani wasn’t just his team’s leading light, he was the best player on the pitch.

His two goals showcased just how well-rounded he is as a striker. He released Suarez with a wonderful cross-field pass and then finished off a brilliant long-range one-two with a run into the box to put a superb header past Rui Patricio, and then he produced a beautiful curling finish to round off a sweeping Uruguay counter-attack for what turned out to be the winning goal.

Being the outstanding player in a World Cup knockout game is a surefire way to stamp yourself into footballing memory. Just ask Cavani – he and Uruguay were on the receiving end at the last tournament when James Rodriguez scored twice as Colombia knocked them out.

Cavani probably won’t be following in James’ footsteps with a big-money move to Real Madrid because of Saturday’s showing. He’ll have to be satisfied with playing in the World Cup quarter-finals.

Cavani stole the show from Suarez and Ronaldo.

Cavani stole the show from Suarez and Ronaldo.

PORTUGAL’S LESSER LIGHTS DISAPPEAR

Portugal are very clearly a team that relies on its best player – not a bad strategy when he’s Cristiano Ronaldo – but fans, manager Fernando Santos and Ronaldo himself are entitled to wonder why that’s the case.

Unlike at the last World Cup, the European champions came to Russia with a much better squad. Joao Mario was good enough to earn a move to Inter Milan a year ago, Goncalo Guedes is coming off a superb season with Valencia, and Bernardo Silva has established himself as a trusted player at Premier League champions Manchester City, even if he’s not an automatic starter.

Ultimately the buck stops with Ronaldo, but in a game like this, where Uruguay’s tough-nosed, vaunted defence found out a way to lock the striker down, some of the other players need to step up. This is a better team, on paper, than the players who won the Euro 2016 final even when Ronaldo went down injured in the first half.

Silva in particular has been especially disappointing in this tournament, although he did at least step up here with Ronaldo off colour.

He had a good season at City, so there should be no lack of form or confidence affecting his game. Indeed, he should have been looking to assert himself as Ronaldo’s best running mate. Instead, he withered on the big stage, like the rest of his colleagues.

He was Portugal’s best player on the night. The problem was he had little help from anyone else in a white shirt.

Ronaldo was below-par on Saturday - but had no help from his teammates.

Ronaldo was below-par on Saturday – but had little help from his teammates.

URUGUAY ESTABLISH THEMSELVES AS DARK HORSES

Uruguay should be taken seriously as dark horses from this point on. They play a surging France team in the quarter-finals, a side who looked like they’d finally found top gear in Saturday’s earlier game as they beat Argentina, but Antoine Griezmann and company won’t be relishing a match-up with Oscar Tabarez’s side.

Griezmann’s club mates, Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez, anchor a superb defence – and one that will know all about the threat posed by the French striker – and the midfield grew into its own against Portugal, helped by the promotion of Arsenal target Lucas Torreira to the starting line-up.

And up front, of course, they have Suarez and Cavani.

They happen to be on the worst side of the draw – if they do get past France, it could be Brazil in the semi-finals – but there’s a solidity and spirit about this Uruguay side that has marked some of the best teams in football’s history.

They play as a sum greater than its parts, and when the parts are such talented players, punching above their weight is a fearsome prospect – not to mention, a commendable achievement from Tabarez.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone if Uruguay can pull off a long run.

Uruguay's squad is not short on talent and has a spirit of togetherness.

Uruguay’s squad is not short on talent and has a spirit of togetherness.

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Koke back in favour and other talking points as Spain play hosts Russia in World Cup last-16

Andy West 1/07/2018
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Spain continue their World Cup campaign with Sunday’s last sixteen tie against hosts Russia, who may fancy their chances of causing a major upset against a team which stumbled badly throughout the group phase.

Only a disputed last-minute goal from Iago Aspas prevented Spain from slipping to a defeat against Morocco and second place in the group, and inexperienced interim boss Fernando Hierro’s ability to lead his players deep into the tournament is being seriously questioned.

Here are three big storylines ahead of the game.

CAN SPAIN FIND CONSISTENCY? 

Spain are heading into the game with mixed emotions, having produced some excellent flowing football at times and won their group but also struggled for consistency and looked very vulnerable at the back.

No other team still in the competition has conceded more goals than the five allowed by La Roja in the group games, and the worrying form of keeper David de Gea continues to present a major concern at one end, while the late hero against Morocco, Aspas, is pushing hard to replace or supplement Diego Costa at the other.

There is absolutely no doubting Spain’s quality, and they should be easily capable of comfortably overcoming a rather ordinary Russian outfit. And out of all teams we have seen so far in Russia, they are probably the side with the most obvious scope for improvement if they can remain focussed and cut out their sloppy errors.

But it’s impossible to escape the feeling that things aren’t quite right within the Spanish ranks, and another badly conceded goal or two could bring a shock early end to their campaign.

spain training

KOKE BACK IN FAVOUR? 

The biggest loser in the shock pre-tournament departure of Spain boss Julen Lopetegui has been Atletico Madrid man Koke, who started six of his team’s 10 qualifiers, gaining the second-highest number of minutes of all midfielder behind Sergio Busquets, but has only been selected once so far by interim boss Fernando Hierro – he played in the opener against Portugal but was left out against Iran and Morocco.

Koke is probably the least technically gifted of Spain’s midfield options, so it’s understandable why Hierro chose the speedy penetration of Real Madrid winger Lucas Vazquez and the incisive passing of Bayern Munich’s Thiago Alcantara against a pair of opponents who were always going to sit deep and pack the penalty box.

But Koke boasts outstanding tactical understanding and is an excellent presser of the ball – a benefit that comes naturally after playing for six years under the management of Diego Simeone. There’s a strong argument that those exactly qualities mean he could be the best option to restore the balance that has been missing for the majority of the tournament so far, but if he is left out again it would be a strong indication he is not fully trusted by Hierro.

Koke 1

DO RUSSIA BELIEVE? 

Russia’s chief challenge on this historic occasion could well be psychological.

After making an unexpectedly fabulous start to the campaign by thrashing Saudi Arabia 5-0 and then comfortably downing Egypt 3-1, the hosts were brought crashing back down to earth with a comprehensive 3-0 defeat in their final group game against Uruguay – allowing the rest of the world to conclude they had been found out as soon as they came up against decent opposition.

Now Russia have bounce back from that disappointment and prove – to themselves as much as anyone else – that they belong in the latter stages of the World Cup. Getting through the group stage is one thing, but that was probably the absolute limit of Russia’s expectations and mustering the self-belief to topple a heavyweight like Spain will be a major mental hurdle.

Of course, home crowd advantage could play a factor, and the fans at the Luzhniki Stadium have their part to play in creating a fierce atmosphere to inspire the underdogs to a major scalp.

Russian national football team

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Best images as Lionel Messi's Argentina are knocked out after a Kylian Mbappe special for France

Lionel Messi and Argentina’s hopes of winning World Cup 2018 ended on Saturday after France defeated them 4-3 in the last 16 stage.

A brace from PSG forward Kylian Mbappe, a goal from Benjamin Pavard and an early penalty from Antoine Griezmann led Didier Deschamps’ team to the quarter-finals of the tournament.

A sensational strike from Angel Di Maria, a deflected goal from Gabriel Mercado and a late Sergio Aguero consolation goal did keep Argentina in what was a classic World Cup encounter, but it was not quite enough as Jorge Sampaoli‘s team bowed out of the competition.

Here, we take a look at some of the best images from what was probably Messi’s last game at the World Cup, and probably his last in an Argentine shirt.

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