A lot was expected for the young Uruguay side at the U-20 World Cup, and that team is delivering with a smooth ride in the knock-out stages
Arriving as South American champions, the expectations were high for Uruguay at this year’s U20 World Cup in South Korea. And so far La Celeste have lived up to all the hopes by topping their group with seven points from three games and doing so without conceding a single goal. It has made the side one of the favorites to win the tournament.
For that to happen Uruguay will have to play better than they did in their final group game vs. South Africa, though. The team managed by Fabián Coito were already qualified for the next round going into the match, which was noticeable. South Africa – who lost their two previous games – were unlucky not to win the game and gave Uruguay a wake-up call against complacency.
It was a stark contrast to Uruguay’s first two contests wherein the team impressed with two rock solid displays. In the opening game vs. Italy, Uruguay had the upper hand in the first half but didn’t finish the chances. In the second 45 minutes, Italy grew into the game, however, Uruguay defended well and eventually picked up all three points thanks to a sensational free-kick by Rodrigo Amaral.
Next up was Japan. The Asian side had also won their World Cup opener and was seen as a tricky opponent. In a match of few chances, a brilliant move initiated by Real Madrid youngster Fede Valverde and finished by Nicolás Schiappacasse meant that Uruguay broke the deadlock. The lead was threatened but never canceled out and all doubts were removed when left-back Mathías Olivera scored in the 92nd minute to make it 2-0.
Two wins plus the draw vs. South Africa made sure Uruguay qualified for the round of 16 as group leaders, where they will face Saudi Arabia who advanced as one of the best four third-placed teams in the tournament. On paper, Uruguay looks a better side but the kind of complacency that was seen against South Africa could result in an early knockout.
One player that Uruguay will have available again is Rodrigo Amaral. The top scorer of the South American Youth Championships picked up an injury after scoring the winner vs. Italy which ruled him out for the remaining group games. Fortunately, Amaral has recovered in time for the knockout rounds. Something Facundo Waller – who also went off injured in the first game – hasn’t done. There’s even a chance that Waller might not feature at all anymore at the tournament.
Uruguay in the 2017 U20
World Cup group stages.
Goals scored | 3
Goals conceded | 0
Wins | 2
Draws | 1
Group leaders🇺🇾 pic.twitter.com/kxQrKgR4SM
— Warriors of Uruguay (@UruguayanHeroes) May 27, 2017
So Waller is unlikely to make the difference for Uruguay this tournament, unlike Fede Valverde who has been superb so far. The midfielder is pulling the strings for his side and is the starting point to almost every good Uruguay attack. Behind him, the entire defense has been impressive as well with right-back José Luis Rodríguez, both in defense and attack, being the standout player.
One Uruguayan that has done well but hasn’t shown his true potential is captain Nicolás De La Cruz. The attacking midfielder was arguably Uruguay’s best player in the qualifying campaign. In South Korea, he has shown some glimpses and perhaps is leaving his best till when it really matters; the knockout rounds.