INTERNATIONAL football fanatic Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) takes a look at the big South American qualifier between Brazil and Uruguay in the early hours of Saturday morning.
Brazil v Uruguay | Saturday 01.45
Brazil and Uruguay go head-to-head in a classic encounter steeped in history, with both eager to stay near the top of the standings.
Before that astonishing 7-1 thrashing against Germany in the 2014 World Cup, Brazil had only lost one World Cup game on home soil, and that came in the 1950 final against underdogs Uruguay.
Still unbeaten in home World Cup qualifiers, the Samba Boys have been run very close by La Celeste in their last three meetings. But this is the first time the two teams have locked horns in three years and Brazil are doing all they can to make it an uncomfortable visit for their guests.
The Selecao have taken this game to the country’s northeast with Recife’s Arena Pernambuco hosting the action, a city and location the Uruguayans complained about during the 2013 Confederations Cup; poor transport and training facilities were to blame.
Brazil even wanted to play the game in the searing afternoon heat but FIFA insisted on an evening kick-off. Clearly, those at the top of the Brazilian confederation are a touch nervous when it comes to taking on La Celeste.
Nevertheless, the Samba Boys arrive buoyed by victory over Peru in their last qualifier, coming into Matchday 5 of the arduous qualifying section in third having W2-D1-L1. Included in those four matches was a decent point in Argentina, a destination Brazil have won at only twice in 21 years.
However, there have been mumblings of discontent from Brazilian supporters. Head coach Dunga has employed an overly cautions, defensive and pragmatic approach during his reign, eager to avoid defeat against the big guns instead of gunning for the kill.
There’s a suggestion he may release at least one shackle in the early hours of Saturday, seeing as Luiz Gustavo and Fernandinho were the only two midfield destroyers called into camp and with Willian, Douglas Costa and Neymar making the XI, the Samba Boys should more comfortable on the front foot.
Neymar was suspended from the first two rounds and was nowhere near his best for his country in their last two outings. Dunga’s yet to find the right home for the Barcelona star with trials as a false nine proving fruitless. There’s hope the Selecao boss will see sense and deploy the skipper from the left, ala Barca.
Only Pele, Ronaldo, Romario and Zico have netted more often than Neymar in in the iconic gold jersey and his 46 goal-tally from 69 caps makes him Brazil’s most important player. He’s survived an injury scare this week and this could/should now be his stage to shine with Uruguay missing key personnel at the back.
La Celeste head north sitting two points above their hosts following a fine and resounding 3-0 success over continental champions Chile last time out. However, coach Oscar Tabarez has seen his defence depleted through injury and suspension.
Captain Diego Godin and centre-half partner Jose Maria Gimenez are crocked with right-back Maxi Pereira suspended. It means Uruguay are likely to field last minute call-up Mauricio Victorino alongside Sebastian Coates at centre-back in a patched up and inexperienced last line.
Uruguay relish their underdog role but with so many key defensive players absent, Tabarez is likely to sit his team in deep with Egidio Arevalo Rios and Alvaro Gonzalez providing the lung-bursting energy, physicality and protection to the heart of defence.
All isn’t lost, mind. All-time leading goalscorer Luis Suarez makes his return to the international game after 16 months out and although Uruguay coped surprisingly well without him in competitive matches – losing just once, 2-1 at altitude in Ecuador – the Barcelona hitman will give the visitors a useful out-ball.
The guests have never recorded a World Cup qualifying victory on Brazilian soil but they have come close. Conditions all seem to favour the Selecao but 8/15 (Coral) is no price to punt considering their predicament over the past 24 months.
Uruguay have only W3-D0-L6 in their nine away qualifiers since 2012 and the stats aren’t necessarily onside here but I just can’t ignore odds-against quotes (41/40 Bet365) on the travellers with a +1 goal start on the Asian Handicap.
With this selection, we’ll only lose money if Brazil win by two or more goals with our stake returned should the Samba Boys win by exactly one goal – a draw or unlikely away win delivers us profit.
Brazil v Uruguay – Uruguay +1 Asian Handicap (41/40 Bet365)
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