A rising star from Real Madrid has given a new lease of life to Uruguay’s faltering World Cup campaign with just two games to go
A historic Tuesday night in Asunción saw Uruguay take a big step towards the World Cup of next summer. In a tight game, the side managed by Óscar Tabárez booked a narrow 1-2 victory and have now risen to second place in the qualification table, four points ahead of sixth-placed Chile who will not make the cut as it stands.
Uruguay traveled to Paraguay after drawing 1-1 at home vs. Argentina five days earlier, while Paraguay gained three vital points in Santiago against Chile. It meant that the sides were only separated by three points before their encounter, with Uruguay on 24 and Paraguay on 21 points.
Therefore for Paraguay, the pressure was higher to win the game, especially on home soil. Uruguay, on the other hand, adopted a style of play they’re extremely familiar with. Two banks of four and Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani up top with the idea to allow minimal space to Paraguay between the lines and steal the game on the counter.
However, as 19-year-old midfielder Federico Valverde made his debut for the Uruguay senior squad, La Celeste was able to retain possession more often than usual. The midfield pairing of Valverde and Inter Milan’s Matías Vecino provided ball retention and intelligence in their play, which hasn’t been seen from an Uruguay midfield for years.
It led to Uruguay having some good periods on the ball in the first half, but so had Paraguay. Neither side created a lot of chances, although Uruguay had one clear-cut chance produced for Edinson Cavani by Valverde. It was a combination of confidence on the ball and the ability cut open the Paraguay defense with a well-measured pass. Cavani failed to convert Valverde’s great piece of play, it nonetheless showed the level of talent the youngster possesses.
The match went to half time with the score 0-0 and fairly balanced in every aspect. The beginning of the second half provided a different showing, though, as Paraguay took the initiative and put Uruguay under pressure. Uruguay’s full backs Martín Cáceres and especially Maxi Pereira had a difficult time in the opening twenty minutes or so and proved to be a weak link. Diego Godín and José Giménez stood their ground, however, and the midfield duo of Valverde and Vecino were also decisive as their calmness and quality on the ball made sure Uruguay escaped the pressure without conceding.
Valverde-Vecino looks like a wonderful 'doble cinco'.
Torreira should get a chance as well, but this partnership was good last night. pic.twitter.com/iSeKgzBYOL
— Warriors of Uruguay (@UruguayanHeroes) September 6, 2017
Then came the moment every young boy dreams of. With 75 minutes gone, an Uruguay corner ended up at the feet of Valverde who didn’t think twice, took a shot and opened the score for Uruguay. His effort had taken a huge deflection, but the youngster couldn’t care less. Four minutes later, Uruguay doubled the score. Suárez punished La Albirroja on the break and eventually saw his effort, fortunately, find the back of the net via Paraguayan defender Gustavo Gomez.
In the 88th minute, Angel Romero scored the 1-2 and made it a contest once again and ensured some nerve-wracking final minutes. In the end, Paraguay failed to score the equalizer which was mainly down to a last-minute interception by Uruguay captain Diego Godín, who once again showcased his tremendous defensive abilities.
With these vital three points Uruguay broke the negative streak of never winning a World Cup qualifier in Asunción, but more importantly are closer to Russia than ever before. With 27 points in the bag and Venezuela (away) and Bolivia (home) as their two remaining qualifiers, only a huge slip-up could prevent Uruguay from going to the 2018 World Cup.