Sochi: India is a country where Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Neymar, Andres Iniesta or even a Gerard Pique are well known. But then who is Edinson Cavani? Ask any Indian football fan about Cavani’s, the answer will certainly be delayed. Not anymore though.
The Uruguayan and PSG striker ended dreams of Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal with double strikes on either sides of the interval that took his side into the last eight stage of the World Cup. Above all he made it a night which will be remembered for long – the night when Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo both played their last World Cup games (probably).
Argentina had earlier lost 3-4 to France in the pre-quarters Saturduy and a couple of hours later Ronaldo’s World Cup aspirations also ended with his side losing 1-2 to Uruguay.
Many had branded the game to be a battle between Barcelona striker Luis Suarez and Real Madrid attacker Ronaldo and had termed it as a ‘repeat Clasico’. In the end it turned out to be a Madrid derby with the Atletico Madrid defensive centre-backs Diogo Godin and Jose Giminez completely blocking off Real’s Ronaldo.
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez is often referred to as ‘El Maestro’. Saturday night he showed why he is called that. To stop the marauding Ronaldo, the veteran coach implemented both man and zonal marking systems.
If Ronaldo was anywhere near the box it was Godin and his Atletico partner Giminez, who were there to tackle him. When operating on the flanks, Ronaldo had one of the midfielders always asking questions – either it was Lucas Torreira (who had an outstanding game) or Matias Vecino who presented the first tackle when Ronaldo changed flanks and came to the right. The end result was that Ronaldo rarely got the space he needed to generate speed and could never pose a threat to a side who till this game had not conceded a goal.
And then there was Cavani. No one talked about him before the match, but everyone did so after. The first goal was a result of anticipating the Luis Suarez cross to be at the right place, unmarked and head home with a little bit of a help from his shoulder. The second in the second session an act of genius, as he bent the ball with the outside of his right foot to beat the flying fingertips of Rui Patricio. If Kylian Mbappe had been the star of the evening, Cavani certainly emerged the mega star of the night.
Portugal coach Fernando Santos summed up the South Americans on the eve of the match when he was asked to name their strong point. “Uruguay’s biggest strength is Uruguay,” he had said. “If they beat us, they will have to be a better version than us.” On the night, Uruguay were certainly a superior version of Portugal.
Portugal’s triumphant Euro 2016 campaign was never spectacular but it made the most of what they had available — a world-class striker, a strong defence, a good goalkeeper, a winning mentality and good organisation.
Saturday, they faced a team who did the same things more effectively as Portugal went down to only their second defeat in 28 competitive matches under the grizzled Santos.
But it is the attack which makes Uruguay such a potent force and took the country of 3.3 million to the semifinals of the 2010 World Cup, the second round in 2014 and helped make them South American champions in 2011.
Suarez with 53 goals and Cavani 44 — 12 of them from assists by his striking partner — are their two all-time leading scorers and again showed their understanding with an astonishing opening goal in the seventh minute.
Rodrigo Bentancur found Cavani on the right touchline and he swept a magnificent crossfield pass to Suarez. He then cut inside and sent a pinpoint diagonal cross to the far post where Cavani slipped in unnoticed by seven Portugal players to score with a bullet header.
Cavani’s second goal was another magnificent effort as he met Bentancur’s pass first-time and curled the ball into the net from the edge of the penalty area. In between Pepe had scored… but in the end it was of no consequence – Cavani saw to that.
Santos said there simply nothing his team could have done about the first goal.
“That was an incredible move,” he said. “There was a cross to the left, a cross to the right, and then one came in from behind. We weren’t able to control that kind of movement.”
The cannonball effect.