Tuesday 17 July 2018

Cavani ends Portuguese hopes

Uruguay 2 Portugal 1

Uruguay's Edinson Cavani celebrates. Photo: Getty Images
Uruguay's Edinson Cavani celebrates. Photo: Getty Images

Mark Critchley

This was supposed to be a night of blood and belligerence. Luis Suarez against Pepe. Cristiano Ronaldo contra Diego Godin. 'Shithousery', chicanery and fingers going where fingers do not usually go. Every VAR review would be a video nasty. 'The Battle of the Black Sea', some preemptively called it. Tell the medical staff to bring their body bags, they said. Only one of these sides would leave Sochi alive.

This was no dirty war, though. Instead, Uruguay progressed to the World Cup quarter-finals by carrying out a clean, thorough and methodical assassination of a frenzied, desperate Portugal.

Cesar Ramos shows Portugal's Cristiano a yellow card. Photo: Getty Images
Cesar Ramos shows Portugal's Cristiano a yellow card. Photo: Getty Images

Two clinical Edinson Cavani goals, one early on in proceedings, the other not long after Pepe's equaliser, put a firm but fair La Celeste in the quarter-finals against France. Oscar Tabarez's side did not rely on the dark arts to get them there, but their imposing, authoritative defence. Portugal dominated the play for long spells - particularly in the second half - and will regret Bernardo Silva's miss a minute on from Uruguay's second, when the goalmouth was open and begging.

Uruguay, however, remained confident that their backline - centred around Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez, perhaps this World Cup's best defensive pairing - would be enough to see them through. Though they came under severe scrutiny, and conceded their first goal of this tournament, they passed their test.

Ronaldo, meanwhile, was a picture of seething frustration from Cavani's opener onwards. In his fifth World Cup knockout game, he could not find his first World Cup knockout goal. His desires on the Golden Boot and perhaps the Ballon d'Or are gone. He leaves this tournament on the same day as Lionel Messi.

Tabarez, the quiet and dignified head coach in charge for more than a decade now, has long relied upon the genius of Suarez and Cavani to supplement his rearguard's sturdiness. The pair delivered as early as the seventh-minute, with an extraordinary one-two so ambitious it caught Portugal cold.

Uruguay's Luis Suarez challenges Portugal's Jose Fonte. Photo: Getty Images
Uruguay's Luis Suarez challenges Portugal's Jose Fonte. Photo: Getty Images

Cavani, out on the right and only just entering opposition territory, first switched play to Suarez on the opposite flank. By the time his strike partner had trapped the ball, stepped inside and sought to cross, Cavani was already in the penalty area and peeling off Raphael Guerreiro, in space at the far post.

In two beautiful, raking passes, Uruguay had not only cut their opponents open but almost covered the width of the pitch twice. The third and final touch was the only imperfect one. Cavani converted past Rui Patricio emphatically but also slightly awkwardly, diverting Suarez's cross with his nose rather than his forehead.

Mere minutes after the opener, Ronaldo had abandoned the cute shimmies and neat interplay he had shown in the opening stages and was instead going it alone, cutting inside from the left with intent, searching for openings, finding none.

Uruguay were suffocating their opponents, restricting them to hopeful, long-range attempts, but after spending so long seeming impenetrable, their defence eventually came under a sustained period of examination for the first time in this tournament. Not long after the start of the second half, they conceded their first goal.

Portugal's forward Cristiano Ronaldo reflects on his side's exit from the World Cup. Photo: Getty Images
Portugal's forward Cristiano Ronaldo reflects on his side's exit from the World Cup. Photo: Getty Images

Gimenez and Godin, imperious up to this point and so often aware of the immediate threats around them, were caught out while transfixed on the danger posed by Ronaldo on a corner. As the ball whipped over them and Ronaldo, the unmarked Pepe headed home the equaliser. It was a goal against the run of play, or at least one that appeared unlikely.

Uruguay, though, were unlikely to give up an opportunity so easily again. La Celeste quickly composed themselves and re-established their lead with their first attack of the second half. It was a simple goal - born of winning both an aerial duel and a second ball - but it required a sublime finish from Cavani, who directed his attempt around Patricio's outstretched palm and in.

Independent

Portugal's Bernardo Silva competes for a header with Uruguay's Lucas Torreira. Photo: Getty Images
Portugal's Bernardo Silva competes for a header with Uruguay's Lucas Torreira. Photo: Getty Images

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