With the World Cup group stages now having drawn to a close, it is time to take a look back and see just which side impressed the most tactically during the past few days. While there were some fine approaches to matches, the winner would have to be Uruguay for the way they took apart hosts Russia, who were enjoying a 100% record before facing off with the South Americans.The match was essentially a playoff to see who could win Group A, and two-time world champions Uruguay emerged victorious with a 3-0 win on the day. Much of the credit for that fine performance should go to coach Óscar Tabárez – both the longest-serving and oldest coach in this summer’s tournament.
Tabárez is 71 years young, and that means he equals former Greece coach Otto Rehhagel, who was the same age when he led the Greeks to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Tabárez had previously managed Uruguay between 1988-1990, but returned in 2006 and has remained ever since. That experience has usually paid off with Uruguay often moving deep into any tournaments they play in, and it showed once more against Russia when they took the game to the hosts and set out to prove to the world just how good they truly could be. With an attacking flair best utilised when done quickly after attaining possession, La Celeste ensured that Russian legs would tire out while maintaining control of the ball, dictating the play and ensuring they could stretch out wide without too much effort.
Russia’s sloppiness with their set pieces didn’t help matters of course – too often were Uruguay able to simply mop up possession once again and launch their counter offensive. Tabárez’s team have become masters of that approach, with it having initially paid dividends in the 2014 tournament until they ultimately fell out of the competition at the round of 16 in a somewhat surprise 2-0 defeat to Colombia. The supply line towards Edinson Cavani was particularly potent, though the Paris Saint-Germain striker found it difficult to make the most of his chances. He scuppered several opportunities before eventually getting himself on the scoresheet, adding Uruguay’s third right at the death following Luis Suarez‘s opener and an own goal from Russia star man Denis Cheryshev.
Consistency seems to be the key to Tabárez’s success too – goalkeeper Fernando Muslera earned his 100th cap in the match, becoming the nation’s all-time record appearance maker. Such a sturdy presence has ensured his team have been the only one to get through the whole group stage with a perfect record – three wins and no goals conceded. Tabárez has always made sure his defence is as tight as it could be, and that way of thinking bodes well for a team aiming to lift their first world title since 1950.
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