Who: Portugal vs. Uruguay
Where: Lusail Stadium
When: Monday, November 28, 22:00 (19:00 GMT)
FIFA Ranking: Portugal (9), Uruguay (14)
Uruguayan midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur said on Sunday that the two-time champions are enjoying their underdog status as they prepare to face Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal in the World Cup on Monday.
If that comment reflected calm confidence, there’s a reason for that.
Four years ago, an Edinson Cavani brace helped the South Americans stun the then European champions 2-1 in the World Cup round of 16. Portugal was also the favorite before that game.
And following their monotonous 0-0 draw with South Korea on Thursday, La Celeste, as Uruguay is known, are once again eager to try and beat the odds in their Group H clash.
“We respect everyone, but the less you know about Uruguay, the better it is for us,” said the Tottenham player Bentancur. “It is better not to attract attention, be humble, respect our opponents and play anyway.
“In the last World Cup we did very well, starting from the back.”
Indeed, much attention will be focused on Portugal’s impressive array of attacking talent that includes João Félix, Rafael Leão, Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva, as well as Ronaldo. Portugal’s talisman goal against Ghana made him the first player to score in five World Cups.
In veteran centre-back Pepe, Portugal has one of the most experienced players in the tournament. Coach Fernando Santos said the 39-year-old Pepe would play on Monday, making him the second-oldest outfield player to appear in a World Cup match, after Cameroonian great Roger Milla.
Bentancur is looking forward to taking on the Brazilian-born Porto defender.
“We all know Pepe, I played against him in 2018, he’s a great player, he’s had an incredible career,” Bentancur said.
“Playing with him will be a good test for us, but we also have our weapons. They have experience, so do we, and we will try to attack their weaknesses”.
Portugal have identified midfielder Federico Valverde as Uruguay’s danger man.
“He is a difficult player to stop. He is a good team player, a strong player,” Bernardo said. “He is one of the best midfielders in the world, not only with the ball but also without it. He does a lot to create space for his teammates.”
Valverde, 24, was named man of the match against South Korea in their World Cup opener and has already won the Champions League and La Liga with Real Madrid.
He has really succeeded this season, scoring more goals in 20 games than in his previous 148 games for the club in four campaigns. “He is still the same boy, humble, companion, always participating very naturally,” said Uruguayan coach Diego Alonso. “His performance of him is great, extraordinary, we are very happy to have him.”
The Portuguese will qualify for the round of 16 if they beat Uruguay. But if Uruguay wins, they will pass Ronaldo’s team on the points table and bolster their own chances of qualifying for the round of 16. If that happens, they will no longer be less favored.