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World Cup Matchups: Uruguay

It's do or die time for Italy. Can they beat Uruguay and move on to the knockout rounds?

Michael Steele

This is it. This one is for all the marbles. Italy have to get a win or a draw to get to the knockout rounds. Lose to Uruguay and that's it. The end of their World Cup. A second straight disappointment on the world's biggest stage.

Let's not have that happen, eh?

Tactics

Uruguay's tactics are simple: find a way to get it to Luis Suarez or Edinson Cavani, and let them do the rest. Their stellar front line pairing is easily the best in the World Cup, and they showed that to full effect against England last week.

Outside of that, though, and Uruguay really aren't very good. Their width is bad, their midfield is terrible, and their defenders are either too old or too inexperienced, and all are too slow. The side has been in terrible form ever since their Copa America win three years ago, and their World Cup qualification had to go all the way to the last-gasp playoff round before they were able to punch their ticket.

Normally there'd be all kinds of breakdowns on how they move the ball around, what they do with and without it, and blah blah blah, but their setup really is as simple as "chuck it forward and see what happens when the strikers have the ball." When it works, it works, but when it doesn't, they're in bad shape.

Key Players

Luis Suarez - Suarez is arguably the most in-form striker in the world right now. He shared the European Golden Boot with Cristiano Ronaldo this past season, and was a massive part of Liverpool's near-miss title challenge. He's got a massive bag of tricks at his disposal, and when his head is screwed on straight (as it has been all year), he's a dominant force. He came in to this World Cup rehabbing a knee injury that had required surgery just over a month ago, but he came out of the England match looking like he hadn't missed a day.

Edinson Cavani - We all know what Cavani is about: he'll work his hind end off up and down the pitch when Uruguay is out of possession, but when they have the ball he will crash the box and use his physicality to cause all kinds of issues. He's incredibly dynamic for such a large man, and he uses that to his full advantage. His style matched up with Suarez makes for nightmares for Uruguay's opponents.

Fernando Muslera - Uruguay's top goalkeeper is capable of moments of brilliance, but is just as likely to completely misread a ball and dive in the wrong direction. You never quite know what you're going to get with Muslera, and while that's normally not a desirable trait in a netminder, he's still Uruguay's best goalkeeper by a mile. He'll have to be on his game to keep Italy out, but if the Azzurri can overload the box, they can force mistakes, and mistakes by goalkeepers lead to goals galore.

Diego Godin - Assuming he doesn't go crazy like he did against Costa Rica, Godin is the heart of Uruguay's defense, especially with Diego Lugano injured. Trouble is, though, Godin does have a tendency to seemingly lose his mind for long stretches of a match, winding up wildly out of position and doing more harm to his side than good. He's also combative, so it could be interesting to see what fireworks go off when he and Mario Balotelli go head to head.

Outlook

Thank goodness Costa Rica beat Uruguay by two goals, or else this would be a good deal trickier. Any result, win or draw, and Italy is through to the knockout rounds. Italy are at zero goal differential, but because Uruguay only beat England by one goal, they're at -1, so a draw sees Italy through on goal differential.

That's not going to be easy, though. Italy's back line has been a mess so far, and Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani are two of the best forwards on the planet, and as they demonstrated against England, they work exceptionally well together.

A well-executed direct attack could work well in Italy's favor, as they have Andrea Pirlo (and potentially Marco Verratti) in their midfield to ping long passes around. Uruguay's slower defenders will have a hard time keeping up with the quicker feet of Italy's non-Antonio Cassano attackers, and they struggled mightily with long balls over the top in both of their matches so far.

If Italy can take advantage of Uruguay's own shaky defense and complete lack of a functioning midfield, they could win the day, but this will almost certainly go all the way down to the wire.

Forza Azzurri.