Who? Uruguay - Russia
Where? Samara Arena, Samara
When? June 25, 16:00 (CET local time)
Uruguay (Gilad Seroussi)
La Celeste already won its place in the next phase before even playing their last match in the group stage. Yes, it is happy rare days in Uruguay. But after a decent performance in the first game the team didn't play well in the second one, and Tabarez is still searching for the right formula.
Facing the explosive host team, Uruguay are going to try a different game plan; no more trying to be the initiating side, but back to the familiar style of a team that lets the opponent take the initiative and then striks with quick counter attacks. The injured Josema Gimenez will probably be replaced with Sebastian Coates, playing alongside Godin and Caceres in a 3 man backline. Laxalt and Nandez will be the wide players, the position causing the biggest headache to Tabarez, with the second designated specifically to stopping Russian winger Cheryshev. While Laxalt will be very familiar with that role, the same he is completing in Genoa, Nandez is still struggling playing wide. Another change will be Lucas Torreira debut in the starting lineup of Uruguay, adding more vertical play to Vecino and Bentancur in the middle of the field. Upfront no changes; Suarez will lead the line and alongside him Cavani will look for his first goal in the World Cup.
Don't expect sexy football from Uruguay, unlikely any change in formation and lineup will do it, as they will try to be formidable in the back as they've been so far, and more clinical upfront. As the great Edinson Cavani put it: "Our joy is from giving all we got on the pitch". I wish la Celeste will enjoy it again.
Russia (Eden Roitfarb)
The Russians have qualified from a group stage for the first time since the 1986 World Cup, then still known as the USSR. Amazingly, Stanislav Cherchesov’s men have produced another impressive attacking performance, this time dismantling Egypt 3-1. Again, Russia beat an Arab team, but unfortunately for them, Uruguay come from South America and are a whole different challenge. With two hard fought 1-0 wins, Oscar Tabarez’s team almost look like the international version of Atletico Madrid, a team you never want to play against in an important game.
With that in mind, it is very likely that an even tougher opponent would wait in the next round – Portugal or Spain are favorites to qualify from Group B, which faces Group A in the next round. The exact order would only be known after Russia would play, so it would be impossible to predict beforehand which spot would be more appealing. Therefore, Russia would want to get the best result possible, and a draw would be enough to secure first place.
One of the topics discussed around the team lately is the alleged suggestions by foreign journalists that there might be cases of doping within the squad. This is due to the surprising two victories, and also because the Russian players ran the greatest distance on pitch than any other team in the tournament. In response, team doctor Eduard Bezuglov said that his players undergo twice as many drug tests than other teams, and that they are in good shape because of their own training and the support of the whole country – which helps them perform well. Undoubtedly, Russia would need to work even harder to compete with Uruguay.