Dark horses Uruguay pull up lame as Bruno Fernandes powers Portugal into last 16

Ian Watson
Portugal celebrate scoring against Uruguay.

Uruguay have an abundance of chaos merchants but were painfully passive in a defeat to Portugal that leaves them bottom of the pile…

Farewell, four-game match days. You were a bloody blast.

For a long time, though, the eighth day of wall-to-wall World Cup looked to be drifting towards a dour conclusion, with Portugal and Uruguay apparently in little need of victory and neither team looking likely to chase it. Then, when the deadlock was broken, with Cristiano Ronaldo appearing to claim that Bruno Fernandes’ cross grazed his ego, Uruguay offered woefully little to avoid a defeat that leaves their last-16 hopes hanging by a thread.

It really does take a special effort to make a team with Darwin Nunez and Edinson Cavani up front quite so dull. Indeed, it was only when the strike pair were subbed that Uruguay offered the illusion of intent.

Before that, Diego Alonso and his men seemed all too happy to make do with what they started with at the Lusail Stadium. Keep a clean sheet, take a point, and move on to the final matchday. Even if Alonso’s cunning plan had come off, it would still have left them needing to beat Ghana on Friday afternoon. The reward for a draw was hardly distinguishable from the consequences of defeat. In that context, Uruguay’s lack of ambition is even more unfathomable.

Alonso switched to a back three with an average age of 32 so it was inevitable that Uruguay would sit deep and look to break on the counter-attack. And once Portugal’s initial huff had been puffed, it looked like things were going swimmingly for the South Americans. Indeed, had Rodrigo Bentancur gone under, over or around Diogo Costa when he bustled his way through the Portugal defence, instead of straight at the goalkeeper, then we would have been reflecting at half-time upon a perfectly-executed game-plan, rather than regretting 45 of the dullest minutes of the tournament.

Uruguay started the second half even more passively so they could hardly complain when Portugal went ahead. IT HAD TO BE HIM! Oh, it wasn’t.

The first giveaway that Ronaldo hadn’t touched Fernandes’ cross was in the free agent’s celebration. It was brash, obviously, but for Ronaldo, not brash enough. Then we saw the replays and the daylight between Ronaldo’s bonce and the ball.

Portugal vs Uruguay

Even FIFA, the kings of choosing what they see and hear, acknowledged the bleeding obvious so Fernandes had his first World Cup finals goal. Which the Manchester United string-puller deserved for another telling contribution in Portugal’s attack.

Fernando Santos has received plenty of criticism, much of it justified, for his style of play with this Portugal squad but the coach deserves credit for finding a way to get the best out of both Fernandes and Bernardo Silva. The City schemer has played a central role, freer to roam and dictate the tempo of Portugal’s possession while ably supporting the screening midfielders – William Carvalho and Ruben Neves on this occasion. Fernandes may feel that ought to be his job, and he is rarely as effective when shunted wide for United, but he is making a very good fist of things from the inside channels. Two assists and now two goals. Indeed, he could have had a hat-trick, seeing one effort saved by the Uruguay keeper and another rebound off the foot of the post, after dispatching a late, farcically-awarded penalty.

Uruguay’s protests were justified but largely irrelevant. The defeat was as deserved as the solitary point they took from their frantic-but-feeble opener against South Korea.

Uruguay were many people’s dark horses going into the tournament but those who tipped them barely a week ago are struggling to remember why after two toothless performances that have left them bottom of the group. They simply can’t be so meek on Friday, against a Ghana side with revenge for 2010 on their minds.

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