Sunday June 16, 2013: Kick off: 11pm BST/6pm ET
Itaipava Arena Pernambucano—Recife, Pernambucano
Vicente Del Bosque's side, arguably the greatest international team ever, are without a competitive defeat in four years, since their Opening game defeat to Switzerland in the 2010 World Cup.
They head into not only this match, but the entire tournament, as favourites. And given their ability to get the job done when it matters most in competitive matches, it's hard to argue against such assertions.
Oscar Tabarez's Uruguay arrive as favourites to qualify with Spain from Group B, ahead of the other two sides in the group, African champions Nigeria and Tahiti, the 2012 OFC Nations Cup winner.
La Celeste arrive struggling to secure their place at next summer's World Cup. They currently languish in seventh place in the South American qualifying group, five points behind the automatic qualification places.
Nonetheless, with the likes of Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Diego Godin amongst their number, they aren't without stars themselves. If Tabarez side can click in a similar manner to the 2010 World Cup or the 2011 Copa America, then they have a chance of making an impact, starting in Pernambucano.
In all matches the Spanish haven't been beaten since a 1-0 loss to England in November 2011, 21 matches ago.
Their last competitive match saw a composed, determined performance as a Pedro goal secured a 1-0 win against France in Paris in March. Saturday's 2-1 friendly win over Haiti was nothing more than a loosener in preparation for this tournament and was played as such. Expect this evening's match against Ireland to be treated in similar fashion.
Oscar Tabarez's side have been in poor recent form, with just two wins in their last 10 matches, both of which came in friendlies, against Poland and France respectively. That France match in Montevideo came a week ago, with Liverpool striker Luis Suarez scoring the only goal of the game.
Of their most recent competitive matches however—before Tuesday evening's World Cup qualifier with Venezuela—Uruguay have lost four and drawn the other two, including a 4-0 defeat in Colombia, a 3-0 reverse in Argentina and a dismally poor 2-0 loss in Chile in March.
February 6 2013, Spain 3-1 Uruguay: Cesc Fabregas and Pedro Rodriguez (2) gave Spain a win in Doha. Atletico Madrid midfielder Cristian Rodriguez had levelled the scores in the first half for La Celeste.
Injury troubles mean that Xavi Alonso misses out on the tournament, and Vicente Del Bosque has two main options to fill the Real Madrid playmaker's shoes. Either Bayern Munich's Javi Martinez will step in alongside Sergio Busquets in the double-pivot at the base of midfield, or La Roja's usual 4-2-3-1 formation will make way for more of a 4-1-4-1 with Santi Cazorla taking a place in the engine room. Given it's the first game in a tournament, expect Del Bosque to go with the safe option and opt for Martinez.
Elsewhere, Cesar Azpiliceuta and Alvaro Arbeloa are currently battling for a spot at right-back, whilst Nacho Monreal's recent good showings—particularly against France in March—have placed pressure on Jordi Alba.
In attack, Cesc Fabregas could be set to reprise his role as the "False 9" at the expense of Fernando Torres, whilst Pedro Rodriguez recent good form for his country could see him given the nod ahead of David Silva.
Starting XI: (4-2-3-1) Casillas; Arbeloa, Pique, Ramos, Alba; Javi Martinez, Busquets; Pedro, Xavi, Iniesta; Fabregas
Oscar Tabarez is likely to return Luis Suarez to his starting XI, having seen the Liverpool forward come off the bench to score the only goal of the game in the recent friendly against France. Diego Forlan will likely step aside. With Suarez at centre-forward, expect Edinson Cavani to drift to the right in an attempt to help out in midfield.
In defence Atletico Madrid's Diego Godin is likely to return alongside captain Diego Lugano at the expense of Sebastian Coates.
The left side of La Celeste's lineup will make for particularly interesting viewing. Martin Caceres should start once more at left back with Alvaro Pereira in an advanced position. But given Tabarez penchant for tactical intricacy, it would be no surprise if the back four became a back five, with Caceres stepping inside and Pereira dropping back as a left wing-back.
Though nominally Uruguay are likely to start with a 4-2-2-2 formation, don't be surprised if it were to change into one of a variety of other systems, including 4-2-3-1, 5-4-1 or 5-3-2, as Tabarez looks to outwit Del Bosque and Spain.
Starting XI: (4-2-2-2) Muslera; M.Pereira, Lugano, Godin, Caceres; Gargano, Arevalo; Lodeiro, A.Pereira; Suarez, Cavani
Players to Watch
On the back of a tremendous debut season in Germany helping Bayern Munich to an unprecedented treble, the 24-year-old will likely start for his country, deputising for the injured Xabi Alonso.
Once described as a "complete player" by Vicente Del Bosque, Martinez has proven himself amongst Europe's elite central midfielders over the past 12 months, a mixture of imperious strength, smart positioning and intelligent passing.
With the aforementioned Alonso missing, this is a chance for Martinez to press his claims for a more permanent role alongside Sergio Busquets at the heart of La Roja's midfield.
His performance in the recent friendly against Haiti was somewhat below par, albeit in a match which was nothing more than a glorified training session. Nonetheless, the former Athletic Bilbao star is knocking on the door, and if he can carry his club form into the Confederations Cup, then Alonso could struggle to regain his place.
Whilst at club level the striker can seemingly do no wrong—Winner of the Capocannoniere in Serie A for top goalscorer last season with 29 goals—international level is seemingly a completely different kettle of fish for the 26-year-old.
His goalscoring record at international level currently stands at a respectable 14 goals in 50 appearances, with much of his time spent playing as an unorthodox right-sided forward, as Tabarez looked to accommodate he, Suarez and Diego Forlan in his line-up—Indeed, he may be asked to perform a similar role against Spain.
However, genuinely good performances from Cavani have been few and far between, and his recent form has led to heavy scrutiny, with just four goals in his last 15 senior internationals. Moreover, having looked somewhat disinterested at last summer's Olympic Games, he has since put in a number of lacklustre displays for the national team, most recently against Chile in March.
Nonetheless, the Napoli striker did score an excellent goal in Uruguay's World Cup qualifier in Venezuela on Tuesday evening.
With Forlan starting to show signs of wear and tear at the age of 34, Cavani needs a big tournament to impress upon Tabarez his worth with regards a starting spot moving forwards. Luis Suarez is undoubtedly first choice, but the duo are yet to show that they can make a formidable partnership. Expect Cavani to be looking to press his credentials from the outset.
Spain 2-1 Uruguay
The Spanish will likely dominate possession in their usual style and dictate proceedings, but Oscar Tabarez is one of the most astute tacticians on the international scene, as he showed both at the 2010 World Cup and the 2011 Copa America.
Away from their World Cup qualification struggles La Celeste, with the likes of Suarez and Cavani, can trouble the world champions defence and could make things very uncomfortable for the Europeans in Pernambucano, particularly if they're at their counter-attacking best.
Nonetheless, Del Bosque's side are in the habit of grinding out results whenever necessary, and with that in mind expect them to do just enough to secure the first victory in Group B.
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