Uruguay thrashed Russia in their final group game to secure top spot and book a date with reigning European champions Portugal. Uruguay came out of the blocks running, with a picturesque Luis Suarez free-kick and a Diego Laxalt enabled Denis Cheryshev own goal put them two goals to the good going into the half time. The second half was all about Edinson Cavani trying to score his first goal for Uruguay at the World Cup, and he managed to bag his goal just a few minutes before the end of the game.
Portugal, the perennial underdogs, have been impressive as well, with a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick thwarting Spain from victory in one of the games of the World Cup. After the high of a 3-3 draw, they dispatched Morocco without any fuss, as an early Ronaldo goal sealed the game. A penalty miss by Ronaldo coupled with how close they came to getting knocked out by Iran could be a cause for concern for their manager Fernando Santos, but Santos has had Portugal playing like a well drilled machine, with more emphasis on clean sheets and starving opposition off any space in their half. This was evident by the fact that they had less than 50% possession against both Spain and Morocco.
Uruguay have been very impressive so far, with 5 goals and 3 clean sheets making for a solid display. Jose Gimenez and Diego Godin have not broken a sweat throughout the campaign, and will be looking to make sure that they keep their fourth consecutive clean sheet and move into the quarterfinals of the World Cup and better their Round of 16 exit at the hands of Colombia last time around.
One key area of concern for Portugal has been the inconsistency of their centre-backs. Both Pepe and Jose Fonte are no longer competing in the biggest leagues, with Pepe playing in Turkey while Fonte plying his trade in China. This is a problem for Santos, as they have taken some time to get up to speed with the rigours of the World Cup. Conceding 4 goals will hardly be a positive sign, and Santos will be looking at ways to shore up his defense ahead of the clash with Cavani and Suarez.
Rodrigo Bentancur and Matias Vecino have really grown into their role as midfield Marshalls for Uruguay, with clear improvements seen in their performance over the three games. Against Russia especially, a midfield trio of Lucas Torreira, Bentancur and Vecino did really well to neutralize the threat posed by the Russian midfield, with Lucas Torreira especially playing a starring role by shoring up the midfield and giving his compatriots the license to join in with the strikers and attack. With Suarez and Cavani both scoring goals now, the neutrals are surely in for a delightful and competitive 90 minutes.
For Portugal, the midfield pairing of William Carvalho and Joao Moutinho has done exceptionally in closing off spaces and quickly convert defense into counter-attacks. William Carvalho, in particular, has been impressive, with 85% passing accuracy and 1.3 tackles per game. With Ronaldo in good goalscoring form, and Ricardo Quaresma doing what he does best, Portugal will be eagerly waiting for the exciting challenge of coming up against the familiar Atletico Madrid defensive pairing of Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez.