THE COPA AMERICA quarter-finals conclude on Saturday night and Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) is in the hot-seat for Uruguay's encounter with Peru.
Uruguay v Peru | Saturday 29th June 2019, 20:00 | Premier Sports
France will long be remembered as 2018 World Cup winners; Les Blues’ star-studded squad produced plenty of thrills en-route to their Russian success, although their 2-0 quarter-final triumph over Uruguay was nowhere near as convincing as the scoreline suggested. The eventual champions had just three attempts in the game, generating 0.47 Expected Goals (xG).
Uruguay were dubbed dark horses coming into the competition but were essentially Uruguay’ed in that last-eight encounter. La Celeste had flattered to deceive during the group-stages before coming to the fore with a Last 16 victory over Portugal before their unfortunate exit to France.
Veteran boss Oscar Tabarez was widely expected to step down from his role thereafter But the 72-year-old – battling the rare and serious Guillain–Barre syndrome, a debilitating illness that requires the use of crutches – penned a new contract in September, eager to extend his 13-year stint with another exciting batch of youngsters being introduced to the squad.
La Celeste have certainly found their feet again in 2019, netting at least three goals in four of their six unbeaten outings, five of which ended in wins ‘to nil’. And having topped Group C, Uruguay are now aiming for a sixth semi-final appearance in their last 10 Copa America entries – ultra-impressive for such a small nation by South American standards.
Uruguay’s midfield conundrum
Tabarez has attempted to replace their reliance on counter-attacking football with a more elaborate, possession-based approach. This calendar year he’s introduced a wider midfield, focussed on the flanks, a move that worked a treat when dispatching Ecuador with ease but ran into unforeseen trouble in Uruguay’s last contest against Chile.
With Chile opting for a 3-5-2 formation, Uruguay found themselves out-numbered and out-manoeuvred in the middle, whilst also being exposed on the wings. For 30 minutes, a full-strength La Celeste side struggled to gain a foothold, but once the novelty wore off, this consistently competitive outfit found their feet and ground out the necessary victory.
How Tabarez will approach Saturday night’s showdown remains to be seen, although he’s not short of available options. And if the wily old boss can find the magic formula, you’d count on La Celeste to overcome Peru in Salvador with everything pointing towards this team being the most likely challengers to Brazil for overall outright glory.
Peru in need of a reset
Peru earned plenty of plaudits on their return to the World Cup stage last summer after a 36-year absence. La Blanquirroja were unable to negotiate a path to the knockout stages but Ricardo Gareca’s crew won many admirers in their three group games and Los Incas’ number one was excited about the future with only four of that squad aged over 30.
Results since Russia have been mixed; narrow defeats were incurred against the Netherlands and Germany, whilst the side easily beat regional rivals Chile. However, La Blanquirroja suffered defeats at home to Ecuador and Costa Rica, as well as against El Salvador in USA, prompting suggestions Gareca’s 4-2-3-1 system had become too ponderous and too predictable.
Gareca was aware of the inconsistencies in performance, saying his side are at a stage where they can clearly beat or lose against any nation on the planet and that’s been seen in all its glory this summer. After a decent display against Venezuela, Peru beat Bolivia before getting sliced and diced by the tournament favourites Brazil in their last encounter.
Los Incas gifted the Samba Boys their opening two goals and proceeded to put in one of the competition’s worst displays this summer. Midfield shields Yoshimar Yotun and Renato Tapia were totally exposed and Gareca saw the second-half as a damage limitation exercise – even so, Brazil could easily have racked up twice as many goals in a one-sided rout.
Incas to come unstuck in Salvador
An injury to veteran forward Jefferson Farfan weakens Peru this weekend and with ongoing talk surrounding Andre Carrillo’s alleged ill-discipline, the camp appears to be lacking confidence and cohesion coming into the quarter-finals. That makes La Blanquirroja vulnerable and therefore easily opposable against the might of Uruguay.
The pre-match favourites have tabled 13 triumphs from 19 since the beginning of 2018, whilst Peru have managed just four victories from 13 since the World Cup. There’s plenty of juice in the 7/10 offering on Uruguay here but we can enhance the price to 6/5 (Paddy Power) by supporting La Celeste alongside Over 1.5 Goals.
Since the 1993 Copa America, 83% of quarter-final contests have featured at least two goals with the average goals per-game standing at a healthy 2.93. Considering each of these two teams have been heavily involved in open, exciting encounters thus far, there’s plenty of potential for Uruguay to progress in a game involving a few goals.
Uruguay v Peru – Uruguay to win and Over 1.5 Goals (6/5 Paddy Power)