Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani were on target as Uruguay thumped 10-man Ecuador 4-0 in their opening Group C match at the Copa America on Sunday.
Nicolas Lodeiro opened the scoring after just six minutes before Ecuador full-back Jose Quintero was dismissed for a flailing arm.
With a numerical advantage, Uruguay ran riot at the Mineirao stadium in Belo Horizonte as Cavani and Suarez netted before the break. The rout was completed 12 minutes from time with an Arturo Mina own goal.
“We had chances in the first half, we managed to take them and that gave us the tranquility to manage the game,” said Cavani, who finally scored his first Copa America goal in his fourth participation.
“It was an important step.”
It was the ideal beginning for Uruguay in a tough Group C alongside champions Chile and guests Japan, who meet on Monday in Sao Paulo.
“We’re not as bad as that,” lamented Ecuador’s Colombian coach Hernan Dario Gomez.
“It was a match that got away from us, especially in the first half when it got away from us in every aspect.”
Uruguay were off to a dream start.
Suarez crossed from the right and Lodeiro proved the coolest customer in the Mineirao stadium as he beat one defender with his chest control, flicked the ball over another and then hit a crisp, low volley into the bottom far corner.
“We knew they would be very tough opponents. The important thing was start the game with maximum concentration and we managed that,” said Cavani.
Uruguay were rampant and had the ball in the net soon afterwards only for Cavani to be given offside in the build-up.
Ecuador brought a physicality to the contest that upset the Uruguayan players and Quintero was perhaps lucky to escape punishment when catching Diego Laxalt with an elbow in an aerial challenge.
But moments later, his arm made contact with Lodeiro’s face when challenging for another header, this time drawing blood.
Brazilian referee Anderson Daronco — whose bulging arm muscles put even Ecuador’s strapping players to shame — initially showed the full-back a yellow card but after consulting VAR he changed that to red.
That left Ecuador with a mountain to climb.
On 27 minutes, Alexander Dominguez made a brilliant low save to turn behind Cavani’s half-volley from 15 yards.
Six yards out, tap in?— #TouchlineNorth (@TouchlineNorth) June 16, 2019
Paris Saint-Germain forward Cavani was denied again when Dominguez stunningly tipped his clever back-flick onto the post one-handed.
But it was third time lucky on 33 minutes as Diego Godin headed the ball into the danger area and Cavani acrobatically rasped a bicycle kick from seven yards past a helpless Dominguez, his 47th international goal.
Nahitan Nandez wasted a good chance, shooting straight at Dominguez but Suarez put the game to bed a minute before the break, stealing in at the back post to poke home a flick-on from Martin Caceres.
With the game all but over as a contest, the second half was a damp squib of an affair. Uruguay had the ball in the net soon after the restart but Cavani was offside again.
Ecuador showed plenty of commitment, continuing to rough up Uruguay’s more technical players, but never looked like they believed they would get anything out of the game.
Uruguay looked content to play a patient possession game without pushing for more goals.
Cavani did send Suarez scampering in on goal after a defensive mistake but Dominguez was quickly off his line to snatch the ball off the Barcelona forward’s toes.
The fourth came in calamitous fashion as Gaston Pereiro tried to pick out Suarez from Cavani’s cross even though he was only six yards from goal.
His header dropped to Ecuador center-half Mina, who inadvertently volleyed into his own goal.
“The important thing was that the team won and now we’ll prepare for the next match,” against Japan on Thursday, said Suarez, who notched his 57th goal for Uruguay.
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Keen fisherman Phil Foden is determined to reel in more medals as he targets another title with England.
The Manchester City midfielder is ready for England Under-21s’ Euro 2019 campaign in Italy which starts against France on Tuesday.
Foden won the Under-17 World Cup with the Young Lions two years ago – being named player of the tournament following a 5-2 comeback win over Spain.
He already has two Premier League and two Carabao Cup winners’ medals but the 19-year-old wants to add more to his trophy cabinet at home.
“It’s all about winning the next thing, once you win one thing, you want to win the next thing,” he said.
“For me, I just love winning. Every game I go into I just want to win it. It’s the excitement of winning.
“I keep them in a cabinet. It’s getting full though. I might need a new one! Sometimes I walk past and just have a look and realise I’ve won a lot.
“The World Cup was the first, the biggest one I won and then I started winning trophies with City, cups and leagues. It’s hard to pick one. Every single one is special to me.
“My first medal was probably with the Reddish Vulcans, winning a little tournament and getting a medal, I remember that. I was about eight or nine. It made me realise I want to win more and more.”
Foden and fellow Under-17 champion Morgan Gibbs-White are joined by nine Under-20 World Cup winners in Italy, where England also play Romania and Croatia in Group C.
The Young Lions have been tipped to win the competition, although they face a testing first game against France in Cesena.
The pressure-cooker atmosphere of an international tournament, though, is a world away from Foden’s ideal quiet hobby of fishing.
“I go fishing with my dad when I have a bit of free time. When I have a bit of quiet time, it’s relaxing. I’ve always done it,” he said.
“My biggest fish was a catfish, 136 pounds, it took three of us to get it. It’s not in the trophy cabinet though.”
Fishing offers the Stockport-born star an escape from the spotlight as the teenager deals with the intense focus of the Premier League.
He has played 36 times for City – making just three top-flight starts – since 2017 but life has changed dramatically for him.
“Yes, it’s really hard. For example even when I go shopping, I am going to get stopped for a picture. I don’t mind that but it’s quite hard to lead a normal life,” said Foden, the youngest player to win the Premier League.
“People are always watching you. It’s just what happens. I was walking down the road after one of my first games, and people were going can I have a picture.
“Football can be hard sometimes, your form can drop and I’m sure it will some time – it happens to everyone. Maybe people get on your back but it happens. It’s part and parcel of football.
“I like to think I’m a role model, I just deal with it by trying my best every day and being the best I can be.”
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There’s an entire sub-culture dedicated to skillful football and for fans, even journalists, of a certain generation, it’s one which has likely been ignored or sneered at.
Yet type ‘football tricks’ into YouTube and the search will blast results into the millions.
Some players possess the same skill, but instead of drooling, we’re left spitting out our vexation in disgust with what comes next.
Think of the exasperating feeling when watching a gymnast’s floor routine, full of power and poise, and it ended in a collapsing heap on landing.
That is the same frustration emitted when watching the following five players who have all the quality, but virtually no end product.
Adama Traore, Wolves
If Traore was tagged to the stock market, his price would rise with the ball at his feet and then drop sharply as soon as it leaves his possession.
Volatile is about the best way to frame the 23-year-old up because he is all cheetah-like speed, but no bite.
He’s been gifted with frightening natural pace and size which enables him to bulldoze through defences, yet his decision-making, delivery and shot-taking is maddeningly abysmal.
His playbook was best displayed in the 1-1 draw with Manchester United at Old Trafford last season.
Brought into fold late on, Traore’s impact was immediate. In one sequence, he received possession deep in his half, shunted the ball out in front of him and through a combination of searing pace and strength, muscled past three players en route to the edge of United’s box.
No prizes for guessing what happened next, the Spaniard sliced his effort horribly wide.
Unfortunately, that scenario is not in isolation for Traore and it makes sense that the former Barcelona wideman managed just one goal and one assist in 29 Premier League games last season, despite ranking eighth for successful dribbles with 65.
Amin Younes, Napoli
Ask Ajax fans about Amin Younes and the response would be a despairing sigh, mixed with the weight of complete irreverence.
That’s because the German is a cruel twist of lucid instinct followed by repeated brain farts, inflating his hype with intoxicating skill before leaving behind a flatulent mess.
It’s curious that the diminutive Younes can be so fluid when weaving in between players, but then completely freeze when it’s time to release the ball.
If the obvious option is to shoot, Younes will pass and conversely if the best option is to pass, he’ll shoot. And neither option taken are with any accuracy.
Few Ajax fans were sad to see him leave when he departed for Napoli last year, but then after attempting to wiggle out of a pre-contract agreement with the Serie A side, the Nepalese weren’t exactly screaming with joy either.
Injuries derailed his 2018/19 season and yet despite only playing 12 games, his 1.5 successful dribbles per game was the most for Napoli.
But besides his exquisite dribbling ability, there isn’t much else to shout about. The left winger has registered more than four goals in a season once in his career and has never hit double figures for assists or goals ever.
Allan Saint-Maximin, Nice
At 22-years old, the Nice attacker remains housed in the raw-and-in-need-of-refinement category.
But for such a skillful player, 15 goals and 15 assists since debuting in the 2013/14 season is not the type of return which matches his saucy talent.
Considering no player from Europe’s top-five leagues attempted more dribbles (252) and only one managed more completed (his 143 was one less than Sofiane Boufal, more on him later) a more tangible effect on the scoreline should be expected.
The Frenchman has bags of style, evidenced by his slick celebration dance moves, but has a frustrating habit of twisting and turning down blind alleys.
He’s been accused of over complicating play and slowing games down in order to pull out a shuffle or jive, which explains his low numbers.
Entrusted with a central role for Nice last season, Saint-Maximin did make the type of noise to match his moves.
But he must trust his team-mates and by extension his shooting ability to move into the upper echelons and away from lists such as this one.
Mateo Kovacic, Real Madrid
There might not be another player on the planet with the technical ability of Kovacic who fails to make any impact in the final third.
It’s comical how bad his shooting technique is when you think about the level of talent we’re talking about.
The 25-year-old has scored more than one goal in a single campaign once and that arrived during his best season to date at Inter in 2014/15 when, drum roll please, five goals were struck. Kovacic’s assists tally fares no better either with four the season prior to that his best mark.
An article in FourFourTwo earlier this year asked whether Kovacic, who was on loan at Chelsea last term, is the most pointless player in the Premier League, and it’s hard not to answer with a resounding yes.
In midfield, he neither destructs or constructs, merely showing an ability to keep the structure sound with excellent ball retention, wriggling out of danger and passing the accurately.
Only two Chelsea players attempted more dribbles in the league than Kovacic last season (Eden Hazard and Pedro) while in the Europa League he was third for successful take-ons.
How many goals and assists in both tournaments? A grand total of two assists. For comparison, Ross Barkley contributed to 11 goals and the pair spent the entire season on a personal carousel between the bench and pitch.
Kovacic is the definition of all style and no substance.
Sofiane Boufal, Southampton
Referring to the earlier YouTube search, tap Sofiane Boufal into the web and a video of his highlight reel pops up and it’s named ‘The Moroccan Genius’.
If the Southampton winger is a genius, then he’s a flawed one.
The owner of the most successful dribbles from Europe’s top-five leagues with 144 while on loan at La Liga side Celta Vigo in 2018/19, Boufal returned just three goals and three assists.
Incidentally, that explains why in each clip of his highlights video the editor sharply segues into another shimmy and pirouette as opposed to what happens once he gets past an opponent.
Granted, Boufal plays the game as if on the streets of Brazil, alone on the streets of Brazil that is, because he’s not exactly what you would call a team player.
His objective is to take on as many players as possible, virtually ignoring passing options to do so.
Occasionally, his high technical ceiling results in a stunning goal – he’s a Marco Asensio light in that regard.
A winner against Girona and another sublime strike versus Sevilla hallmarked his mad genius. But ultimately, his greed for dribbling has starved him of a better stat line.