SOUTH AMERICAN football fanatic Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) runs the rule over the Copa America showdown between Group C sides Uruguay and Japan in Porto Alegre.
Uruguay v Japan | Friday 21st June 2019, 00:00 | Premier Sports
Uruguay are in it to win it, that cannot be denied. Whilst a bulk of Copa America coaches are still getting their feet under the table with their first taste of competitive action, La Celeste are tried, trusted and very much geared towards taking the continental title this summer.
Under the calm and wise stewardship of Oscar Washington Tabarez, Uruguay produced the most eye-catching display from the first round of group games when hammering Ecuador 4-0. Of course, their opponents made life reasonably easy for La Celeste – they were never threatened and never truly tested – but the fluency and application displayed was notable.
Statistically-speaking, Uruguay were the best South American side at last year's World Cup and 12 months on, is fair to assume that they have gotten better. The old guard – the likes of Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani, and Diego Godin – are still going strong and the highly promising generation of young midfielders are a year older and more experienced.
Unlike the bulk of their rivals, Uruguay are not scratching around for a model of play. They know precisely what they are doing, even if Tabarez has made the slightest of tactical tweaks by bringing in Nicolas Lodeiro and Nahitan Nandez to operate from the midfield flanks of his rigid 4-4-2, a move designed to give the midfield extra width.
The new-look approach sees Diego Laxalt and Martin Caceres bomb forward from full-back to provide twin-threats, as well as allowing Suarez and Cavani to focus on their roles leading the line and staying closer to the opposing goal. Matias Vecino and Rodrigo Bentancur operated in the middle but Vecino’s injury should see Lucas Torreira return on Thursday.
Such is the cohesion in the group, you get the impression that whomever slots into the XI, Tabarez’s team will be ultra-competitive and difficult to beat. His group arrive in confident mood too having won each of their four fixtures in 2019 – racking up 14 goals – as well as registering 12 triumphs from their 17 outings since the start of 2018.
Japan hope to avoid heavy defeat
Japan head coach Hajime Moriyasu elected to field an inexperienced squad for the Copa America in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Bizarrely, the boss made up most of his pre-tournament friendly fixtures with players not selected for this summer’s competition and so his roster arrived with only six capped players and 18 players aged 22 or under.
The Blue Samurai’s 4-0 defeat to Chile in their Group C opener was therefore our first major glimpse of this group together as eight players made debuts against La Roja overall. However, two late goals against Chile gave the final score a deceptive appearance with Japan spurning four solid opportunities – most of which fell to Ayase Ueda.
There were positive signs for Moriyasu. His team were only out-shot 15-12 (10-9 via shots in the box) whilst Real Madrid bound starlet Takefusa Kubo didn’t look out of place with a number of noticeable contributions. Shoya Nakajima also stood out in possession and the pair of playmakers will be key if the Blue Samurai are to make their mark in Porto Alegre.
However, one area of weakness which could see the underdogs falter is in the air. Despite being a fraction of the size of this Uruguay outfit, Chile enjoyed clear aerial supremacy in their opening encounter, scoring twice from crosses into the penalty area. La Celeste’s physical approach and ability to mix it may prove decisive against the smaller Japanese side.
The betting angle
Uruguay are just 1/5 (Coral) here, which seems about right given the vast chasm that separates the two sides. La Celeste have greater quality, far more experience, and a strong system and structure that’s already been imbedded and engrained into their squad.
Finding value is therefore tricky in such a one-sided betting heat but supporting Uruguay with a -1.75 Asian Handicap makes sense at 4/5 (Bet365). This selection would see us make a half-stakes profit should Tabarez’s troops win by exactly two goals with a full-stakes pay-out ensured if the South Americans triumph by three goals or more.
Six of Uruguay’s last eight victories saw this bet return winnings.
Uruguay v Japan – Uruguay -1.75 Asian Handicap (4/5 Bet365)