How Should Uruguay Approach Brazil in Confederations Cup Semis?
Uruguay swept aside tiny Tahiti 8-0 in their final Confederations Cup group game to confirm their place in the tournament semi-finals, where hosts Brazil await them.
The South Americans put out a largely second string side against the islanders, meaning key players will be well rested when they take on the Brazilians Wednesday.
The match is a repeat of the famous (or infamous if you're Brazilian) 1950 World Cup final match, in which Uruguay pulled off one of the greatest upsets in footballing history to stun Brazil 2-1 at the Maracana.
If the Celestes manage to roll Neymar and Co. in Belo Horizonte, the result won't resonate with anywhere near the magnitude of the "Maracanazo," however Brazil will start the match as firm favorites.
The task facing the out-of-form Uruguayans is not as daunting as it may seem.
Brazil's impressive results in the group stage have masked some worrying flaws in their performances.
Their 3-0 win over Japan and 2-0 defeat of Mexico were marked by brilliant early goals from Neymar, ensuring there was no need for the Brazilians to chase the game, but there were long stretches in both matches in which possession was conceded to the opposition.
Against Mexico, particularly, the home side were dominated for large portions of the game, unable to recover the ball quickly enough in defense and looking lethargic in attack.
In the 4-2 win over Italy, which rested influential midfielders Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi, Brazil never appeared entirely comfortable sitting back and defending their lead.
How should Uruguay approach the Brazil game?
Finding minor faults in three solid victories may seem like nitpicking, but that is exactly what Uruguay's legendary coach Oscar Tabarez will be doing over the next couple of days as he prepares for the intriguing encounter against the five-time world champions.
Uruguay currently sit fifth in the South American World Cup qualifying group and have recently struggled to find the kind of form that saw them win the Copa America in 2011 and reach the semi-finals in South Africa in 2010.
They were thoroughly outplayed by Spain in their opening group encounter, where they were unable to cope with the Europeans' sublime passing game.
One thing that Uruguayan sides can be relied on to produce—especially when little is expected of them—is gritty, backs-to-the-wall displays, and that is exactly what is required against Brazil Wednesday.
Tactical discipline, patience and a touch of physical intimidation are Uruguay's keys to success.
Not conceding an early goal would also be a huge step in the right direction.
Brazil remain a disjointed side, heavily reliant on Neymar and his moments of individual brilliance to unlock opposition defenses.
If Uruguay's rugged midfielders can stifle Paulinho and Oscar, ensuring they don't get time on the ball, the supply lines to the new Barcelona man will be cut.
Neymar can be astonishing when he has the wind in his sails, but he also has a tendency to go missing for long periods of a match. He has not yet developed to the stage where he can impose himself on a game even when things are not going his way.
The Uruguayans are masters of football's dark arts, and it will be no surprise to see them attempting to get under the skin of Neymar and his companions.
The likes of Egidio Arevalo and Diego Lugano are not only brutally tough (sometimes brutal) in a tackle, they are also extremely cunning in the way they rile up opponents.
Luis Suarez has also been known to engage in a bit of niggle in his time.
Neymar has seen it all before when playing for club and country in South American tournaments and will know what to expect, but he has not always reacted well to such treatment in the past, and the Uruguayan players will be well aware of this.
Blunting Brazil's attacking threat will allow Uruguay the opportunity to win the game through their lethal forward players, especially by means of rapid counterattacks.
Edinson Cavani, who has not been at his best in the Confederations Cup so far, may prove crucial in this game if he is able to exploit the space that Brazil's attacking fullbacks often leave behind them down the flanks. Suarez could also do a lot of damage coming in from wide positions.
Make no mistake, Uruguay will be the underdogs when they face Brazil, but these South American scrappers won't mind that one bit.
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