Brazil and Portugal past sixteens at World Cup 2022

Brazil's Lucas Paqueta
Brazil's Lucas Paqueta

Today with Brazil v Uruguay and Portugal v Serbia, we finish analyzing and predicting the eight Round of 16 matches of World Cup 2022.

If you have followed Papa’s analyses and predictions, you will note that the sixteen teams chosen to progress from the Group Stage are paired up as follows: Group A-1—Holland plays Group B-2—England, and A-2—Senegal plays B-1—USA; then Group C-1—Argentina plays Group D-2—Denmark, and C-2—Mexico plays D-1—France; then Group E-1—Germany plays Group F-2—Belgium, and E-2—Costa Rica plays F-1—Croatia; then Group G-1—Brazil plays Group H-2—Uruguay, and finally G-2—Serbia plays H-1—Portugal.  

Brazil v Uruguay

The Brazilians have played their neighbors Uruguay more times than they care to count and the 1950 Maracanazo is still a painful memory for most Canarinha fans.  But the pendulum has swung so far in Brazil’s favor over the past half a century that game intensity notwithstanding the five-time world champions have beaten the two-time champions many more times than not when it mattered most. No doubt there is a little voice inside each Brazilian National Team Player saying “don’t you dare” every time they step on the pitch against Uruguay. As an aside, that little voice will probably return should the Brazilians face Germany in 2002. Each Brazilian team that plays Uruguay at a World Cup is reliving that Maracana match and playing to ensure that pain is never repeated because of their performance.

Uruguay, who historically fear no one but specifically not Brazil will be ready for this encounter, and their coach, Diego Alonso, will be salivating at the opportunity to play spoiler. Knowing that Brazil’s Achilles heel is always their defense the Uruguayans will go all out on the attack with six of their men while keeping their defensive four and keeper to blunt the best attack in the world.

Analysis

These two teams know each other too well for there to be any surprises when they meet, the only ifs will be how well will the newer generation of Uruguayan attackers fare against the strong Brazilian defense and how well will the younger Uruguayan defenders do against the established offense of their opponents. The last two times the teams met, Brazilian victories (4-1 away and 2-0 at home) only Luis Suarez scored for Uruguay while four Brazilians scored a combined six goals.

Alonso will be tempted to throw some surprise at Tite but the Brazilian will feel he has seen all Uruguay has to offer and will both have set his team to exploit their weaknesses and prepare them for alternate scenarios should they materialize. He repeatedly emphasizes staying focused and calm (looking Neymar’s way on the latter comment) and tells them that for their team to succeed all they need is patience, as the Uruguayans will both overdo their opening and eventually show their soft underbelly long enough for Ney and his guys to exploit.

Prediction

The game begins frenetically as Uruguay has always trusted their tenacious defense and believe getting the first, and ideally early score, and then fending off their opponent’s consistent attacks, will be the path to success. Tite’s guys know the name of the game against Uruguay is patience and keeping their cool when the River Plate guys begin to do their chippy provocations, especially of Neymar.

Playing these blue-clad Uruguayans is not too different from playing the similarly kitted Argentines and for Brazil, this is a dress rehearsal should that other matchup materializes down the line.

Darwin Nunez’s physicality, Luis Suarez’s wiles, and Frederico Valverde’s all-around play control the opening minutes and nearly result in their desired early score but the Brazilian defense is up to the task and the 25th-minute mark is reached without incident (save some VAR reviews for offsides that were clear but resulted in goals so they have to be checked) and with the Brazilians having probed their opponent’s weaker spots while beginning to wrest control from their opponents. Within a few minutes, it is the yellow jerseys who control possession, and they camp out around the Uruguayan penalty area.  Brazil is poised and Uruguay is worried.

In a flurry of activity over a ten-minute period, Neymar sets up Lucas Paqueta and Richarlison for easy scores leaving the Uruguayans gasping for air and crestfallen as they walk into the locker rooms at halftime. Television commentators marvel at the speed with which the Brazilians took control and made their opponents pay.

In the second half the expected chippy play increases and in a moment of Brazilian silliness, a true lack of concentration, Suarez manufactures and scores a penalty and brings the sides closer. But Neymar will have none of it and within a few minutes, he sets Vinicius Jr. with a perfect through pass while the Uruguayans are pushing for an equalizer and the Brazilians regain the storyline and control of the game.

The match ends with some unfortunate recriminations and acting outs but none that require more officiating intervention than a few yellows. It is here that Tite’s pre-match warnings pay off as none of the yellow cards results in a key Brazilian missing the next round. Tite’s troops progress and Uruguay goes home.

Brazil—3—v—1—Uruguay

Portugal v Serbia

Portugal is looking forward to this match as they have some unfinished business with Serbia. Their UEFA 2022 qualifying matchups were intense and well played but the 2-2 outcome at Serbia should have been a 3-2 win for The Navigators and replays would show CR7’s goal should have been allowed. In fact, the match referee apologized after the match was over, stating that he had made a mistake. That happenstance opened the doors for the 1-2 home loss to the Serbs which placed Portugal in the playoffs having to beat Turkey and North Macedonia (who upset Italy) to make it to Qatar. Portugal want their revenge and this is their chance.    

Serbian team members have been playing very well at their clubs and their form has given them confidence enough to believe they can repeat their qualifiers result and are thus themselves looking forward to proving they did not qualify on a fluke. Stojkovic’s 3-4-2-1 will be put to the test against Portugal’s 4-4-2 and the very crowded midfield will become the battleground for control of the game and its outcome.

Analysis

Santos will be tempted to play Ronaldo as the striker will be adamant to be allowed to start and get his revenge. Knowing this will likely occur the Serbs are preparing a trap for CR7 where they simply isolate him, deprive him of the ball, and force him to either go further down toward his midfielders for contact with the ball or simply be deprived of service. With their tall and physical defenders, the Serbs feel they have the advantage in the air and with Ronaldo’s aging legs not as fast they feel they can corral him before he can make any trouble.

But in the end, Ronaldo is the only change Santos makes the other ten starters remain unchanged. He is relying on his star to team up with Leao to make things happen. The Serbs had hoped it would be the less physically imposing Felix who would play with Ronaldo so they make adjustments on the fly to control the wildcard while maintaining their hack-a-Ronnie type of strategy.

The Serbs have the guns to cause the Portuguese some trouble but not for long stretches as the Iberians are man-for-man a better team. So, the Serbian hopes are pinned on a quick counter off a long Portuguese bout of possession which leaves them too far up the pitch. The other alternative they seek is a set play in the form of a corner or free kick and they play a number of long balls to Mitrovic and Vlahovic in hopes they will be fouled if they cannot progress and longer balls to Tadic and Radonjic in hopes of causing a corner or a hopeful hookup with their other offensive duo. The inclusion of Vlahovica and Radonjic are Stojkovic’s gambles.

Santos is not aware of Radonjic’s speed or of the deadly potential of the Tadic-Mitrovic-Vlahovic triumvirate but will soon be expected to deal with it.

Prediction

The match begins coyly as after all the bluster of “we’ll show you” coming from each side, the bottom line is that neither team is willing to expose themselves to an easy opening score. But the Serbs are the aggressors at first and they put the Portuguese on their back heels for several minutes until the Iberian midfielders begin to assert their control. The Portuguese possession, once obtained, continues for the duration of the half with a few moments of Serbian control and a number of long ball counters that keep the Iberians honest. But the damage comes from Ronaldo who is inspired to get back at the Serbs personally. One of the many fouls he suffers finally puts him within range and around the 30thminute Ronaldo scores the free kick of the tourney so far, putting a swerving ball into the upper ninety leaving Milinkovic-Savic grasping at air.

The Serbs are stunned by the goal but soon recover and the Portuguese actually lose their stranglehold on possession for several minutes. But the Iberian defense is just too strong for the Serbs to penetrate and the half ends with the one goal standing between them.

In the second half, the Serbs are forced to come out and attack which is their strong suit anyway and they soon control the match. Vlahovic latches onto a great cross and heads in the tying score. This time the Portuguese are crestfallen, but it only takes them a few minutes to compose themselves and then for Bernardo Silva and Bruno Fernandes to each contribute an assist to Leao who pounces on both setups to pull Portugal ahead by two goals.

The Serbs were reeling after the first score but the second, only a few minutes later, seems to have sent them into a stupor. They are all heart and attack with muscle memory, but the belief is not there. The Portuguese midfield thwarts most of the Serbian onslaught and Rui Patricio, a second-half sub for the suddenly ill Costa, has little work to do thanks to the consistently stellar work from his four-man defensive line.

The match ends with an uncharacteristic series of handshakes as the proud Serbians seem able to accept they were well beaten and the Portuguese seem assuaged with the result. After all, it was all about the poor officiating in the qualifiers, right?

Portugal—3—v—Serbia—1 

 

Photo: Lucas Paqueta, Shutterstock ID:  2002837274, by A. Ricardo

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