Sochi: It has already been dubbed as the battle between Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez. But then the Portugal-Uruguay pre-quarterfinal which will be played here Saturday is much more than that.
It will once more battle renewed between the Madrid rivals. Ronaldo who plays for Real Madrid will have to get past the combo of Diego Godin and Jose Maria Gimenez both of who play for city rivals Atletico.
It will be a fascinating battle at the Fisht Stadium with Ronaldo, at 33, enjoying his best World Cup but Uruguay the only side to come through the group stage in Russia without conceding a goal.
Godin is an expert at keeping clean sheets, as the leader of an Atletico defence that is the most formidable in the European club game – they kept 34 in all competitions last season – and of a Uruguay side that has not conceded a goal in 2018 in six games.
Ronaldo, though, has already scored four times at this World Cup. In the last two years, he has scored two hat-tricks for Real against Godin’s Atletico, having also emerged victorious in two Madrid derby Champions League finals.
“Godin is a star. He defends, commands, scores goals, wins titles, and does not miss a game,” said Diego Maradona recently in a column.
But then this again is not an individual battle. The South Americans have plenty of talent at their disposal. They have excellent midfielders in Rodrigo Bentancur, Lucas Torreira and Matias Vecino. And up front they boast two of the greatest goal-scorers of their generation in Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. The latter, while playing with Suarez has never got the limelight he deserves. Saturday might change all that.
“They are a typical South American side,” said Portugal coach Fernando Santos. “It’s not just in this World Cup that they have not been conceding goals. It has been like that for the whole of 2018. Oscar Tabarez is the longest-serving international manager. That means he has a very strong relationship with his players.”
And the Uruguayans hold their opponents in equally high regard, conscious that Ronaldo is supported by younger talents like Bernardo Silva and Goncalo Guedes.
“We will mark him with the same respect we mark everyone, despite him being a superstar,” said Sebastian Coates of Ronaldo. “You don’t prepare a match just looking at one player.”