Who: Portugal vs Uruguay
Where: Lusail Stadium
When: Monday, November 28, 10pm (19:00 GMT)
FIFA ranking: Portugal (9), Uruguay (14)
Uruguay midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur said on Sunday that the two-time former champions are relishing their status as underdogs as they prepare to face Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal at the World Cup on Monday.
If that comment reflected quiet confidence, there’s a reason for it.
Four years ago, an Edinson Cavani brace helped the South Americans stun the then-European champions 2-1 in the last 16 of the World Cup. Portugal were the favourites ahead of that game too.
And following their drab 0-0 draw with South Korea on Thursday, the Celeste — as Uruguay are known — are once again looking forward to trying to overturn the odds in their Group H clash.
“We respect everyone, but the less you know about Uruguay the better it turns out for us,” said Tottenham player Bentancur. “It’s better not to attract attention, to be humble, respect our opponents, and play all the same.
“At the last World Cup we did it really well, starting from behind.”
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. The Portugal talisman’s goal against Ghana made him the first player to score in five World Cups.
In veteran centre-back Pepe, Portugal have one of the most experienced players in the tournament. Coach Fernando Santos said 39-year-old Pepe would play on Monday, which would make him the second-oldest outfield player ever to appear in a World Cup match, after Cameroon great Roger Milla.
Bentancur is looking forward to coming up against 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,” said Bentancur.
“Playing him will be a good test for us, but we also have our weapons. They have experience, we do too, and we’ll try to attack their weaknesses.”
Portugal have identified midfielder Federico Valverde as Uruguay’s danger man.
“He’s a tough player to stop. He is a good team player, a strong player,” said Bernardo. “He’s one of the best midfielders in the world, not just with the ball but without the ball too. He does a lot to create space for his team mates.”
Valverde, 24, was named man of the match against South Korea in his first ever World Cup match and has already won the Champions League and La Liga with Real Madrid.
He has really kicked on this season, scoring more goals in 20 matches than in his previous 148 games for the club across four campaigns. “He’s still the same lad, humble, a companion, always participating very naturally,” said Uruguay coach Diego Alonso. “His performance is stupendous, extraordinary, we’re very happy to have him.”
The Portuguese will qualify for the second round if they beat Uruguay. But if Uruguay win, they will leapfrog Ronaldo’s side in the points table, and bolster their own chances of qualifying for the Round of 16. If that happens, they won’t be underdogs any more.