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South America

Uruguay Evolution Behind South Africa Spanking





One of the most fascinating aspects of a World Cup is the way in which teams evolve as the tournament progresses. A poor result, suspension or injury can be the catalyst for a change that suddenly transforms a country that had previously looked like no-hopers into a force to be reckoned with. In Pretoria on Wednesday night we witnessed the first such transformation of South Africa 2010.

Uruguay had put in a turgid performance in their opening Group A game against France, but looked like a completely different team as they punctured the dreams of the host nation with a convincing 3-0 victory that puts them in pole position to qualify for the knockout stages.

When coach Oscar Tabarez looks back on the tournament he may single out the moment when substitute Nicolas Lodeiro was dismissed against France as the turning point for his side’s campaign. Starting playmaker Ignacio Gonzalez had been totally ineffective in that game and Lodeiro, considered by many as one of the most exciting young players in the tournament, had looked odds on to displace him in the first eleven for the game with South Africa. That was until Lodeiro, already on a yellow card, dived in to challenge Bacary Sagna close to the right touchline, missing the ball and instead making contact with the full-back’s ankle. The inevitable second yellow followed, leaving Lodeiro to trudge dejectedly down the tunnel, and Tabarez to consider his options for the all important showdown against the hosts.

Uruguay had lined up in a 3-4-1-2 formation against the French, a tactic that served Tabarez well in the two-legged playoff victory over Costa Rica that secured his side’s place in South Africa. Many had tipped Lodeiro to start in the position behind the two strikers, but surprisingly it was Gonzalez who was given the nod, presumably because Tabarez trusted his additional experience to shine through in such a pressure laden game.

Right from the word go Gonzalez looked off the pace, weak in possession and lacking in ideas. France midfielder Jeremy Toulalan had little trouble marshalling him, forcing the Uruguayan defence and midfield to look for a more direct route to the front two of Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez. Although Forlan excelled in his hold up play, support from deep was rarely forthcoming and without a player to effectively link midfield and attack it was difficult for either of the strikers to have their desired impact on the game. Unable to build attacks on a regular basis, Uruguay reverted to dogged defence, successfully stifling their opponents but blunting their own attacking ambitions in the process.

Gonzalez’s poor performance made it highly unlikely Tabarez would entrust him with a similar role for the game with South Africa and with Lodeiro suspended, ‘El Maestro’, as he’s known in his homeland, was forced to come up with a new tactical approach. Out went Gonzalez, replaced by the Palermo striker Edison Cavani; out went Mauricio Victorino, replaced by Jorge Fucile; and out went the three-man defence – Maxi Pereira shuffled back to right full-back with Fucile occupying the same role on the left.

3-4-1-2 had become 4-3-3 and with it Uruguay offered far more attacking threat than in their opening game. Forlan flourished in the freedom he was given to roam in the attacking half, appearing at the heart of all of his team’s best moves and becoming the first player in the World Cup to score more than once in a game. Suarez looked far more the lively, swashbuckling striker he does at Ajax, winning the penalty from which Forlan scored his second, and providing the assist for the late third goal after a superb cross-field ball from his first game strike partner. And Alvaro Pereira, although not usually shy in bombing forward from left wing-back, relished his license to get forward from the left of the midfield three, getting his reward for a tireless performance by bundling in the third goal.

All over the pitch Uruguay looked a more cohesive unit. Diego Godin and Diego Lugano were solid in the centre of defence. Maxi Pereira and Fucile offered good options coming forward from full-back. Diego Perez expertly patrolled the midfield with the occasional assistance of Egidio Averalo, and Cavani, although not particularly influential, provided additional pace and power up front. This performance was a million miles away from the meandering drivel they had served up against the French.

The turnaround for Tabarez and his men has been quite remarkable considering the short amount of time between games, but illustrates just how unpredictable the World Cup can be. Teams often stumble across the right formula purely by chance, picking up momentum as the tournament progresses and ending it with a team that bears little relation to the one with which they started proceedings. Tabarez has been presented with his impetus for change and now the coaches of all the other sides that failed to impress first time out will be hoping for similar in the coming days.

 


NickDWriters2

Nick Dorrington

Published: Thursday, 17th Jun 2010