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.
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 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.