Copa América Preview: Uruguay and Chile
Welcome to the weekend primer of Between The Posts, where this time we take a slightly different approach. Instead of a match-by-match preview, we’ll preview the 2019 Copa América, kicking off this weekend.
This is the last part of a three-part mini-series looking at the six major favorites going into the tournament. In this article, we look at the top teams from group C. Yesterday, we published an article on group B, the day before on group A.
FIFA ranking: 7
odds to win: 11%
With a population of a little over three million inhabitants, the fact Uruguay have won the most editions of the Copa América – with fifteen cups – is absolutely bonkers. Their majestic performances throughout the years can be credited to their ‘garra charrua’, a fighting spirit that is manifested in nearly every Uruguayan international.
Manager Oscar Tabárez has been overseeing the team since 2006. His side is all about combining a sturdy defense with top quality up front. Their main focus is to prevent the opponent from scoring, and it is reflected in the way they set up; Uruguay play a narrow 4-4-2 shape in and out of possession. Even though there has been some experimenting going on when one of Luis Suárez or Edinson Cavani was not available, expect the 4-4-2 formation to be back in action when this tournament starts.
The central duo at the back – Diego Godín and José Gimenez – play together at Atlético Madrid, which is a huge advantage, while goalkeeper Fernando Muslera is reliable and experienced. The fullback pairing of Diego Laxalt and Martín Cáceres offers adventure and creativity on one side, and defensive certainty at the other flank.
The midfield is the part of the formation that is surrounded by question marks the most. Uruguay do not play with true wingers in their 4-4-2 system; one of the outside midfielders tucks in to create central overloads When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. and protect the team against counterattacks. For the double pivot, 4-2-3-1 is one of the most frequently occurring formations in football. The two most defensive midfielders are called a ‘double pivot’. Inter’s Matías Vecino seems to be a guaranteed starter. Next to him, one of Rodrigo Bentancur, Federico Valverde and Lucas Torreira will be played; Bentancur seemingly getting the cut.
On the flanks is where things get interesting, as Bentancur can play out wide too, Boca Junior’s Nahitan Nández has traditionally done a good job for Uruguay on the right wing, while Giorgian De Arrascaeta and Nicolás Lodeiro are both able enough to fill in the role of playmaker on the wing. Decisions, decisions…
The striking duo has already been decided, though. Nominally, one of Suárez or Cavani drops deeper to collect the ball, while the other stays up top to occupy the center-backs. At the national team, it is expected of them to create a lot more than they do at PSG and Barcelona, something they have shown to be capable of doing time after time again.
What to expect? Tight matches with few shots, fewer big chances, loads of disciplined defending and a moment from Suárez or Cavani to put Uruguay in the lead, a position they seldom give up once acquired.
Lineup possibilities for Uruguay.
FIFA ranking: 13
odds to win: 7%
While Uruguay are in an interesting transition phase, implementing young talent to transition towards the future, no such thing applies to Chile. Third choice goalkeeper Yerko Urra – no caps, no chance of playing time – is the only player aged below 24 in a very ahum experienced squad.
Still, we’re talking about the defending champions, who are aiming for a historic triple Copa América win, after defeating Argentina on penalties in the 2015 and 2016 finals. The question now is, did Chile wait too long with implementing fresh blood in their ageing squad, or was missing out on the 2018 World Cup a blip in a successful international spell?
Chile still draws on the likes of Gary Medel, Mauricio Isla, Alexis Sanchez, Jean Beausejour and Arturo Vidal, all of whom have over 100 caps to their names. Safe to say manager Reinaldo Rueda relies on the experienced guard for the first major tournament under his guidance. Rueda was appointed in early 2018, after Chile had missed qualification for the 2018 World Cup.
Results-wise, Rueda’s Chile have not exactly set the world alight, with positives like a 0-1 away win at Mexico the exception in a recent series that includes losses to Peru and Costa Rica. In their only friendly immediately prior to the Copa América, Chile only narrowly pulled past Haïti, with second half goals by Vargas and Fuenzalida preventing a potentially embarrassing defeat.
Rueda’s Chile mostly operates in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with important contributions to the offense coming from the fullbacks who are deployed high on either flank. With both Gonzalo Jara and Gary Medel operating as the pair of central defenders, this means ball progression skills are preferred at the expense of a potential weakness on the physical front. Both players are someway short of 180 centimeters, so be on the lookout for high balls into Chile’s box.
Being placed in group C means that a third-placed finish puts them up against the winners of group A, which should normally be favorites Brazil. Winning the group would put them up against a third placed team from group A or B, with the prospect of meeting either group B’s winner or their own group’s runners-up in the semi-finals. Three grouped tournaments are weird, but on face it value it doesn’t exactly look like Chile have been dealt a favorable hand.
Chile’s lineup in the last friendly against Haïti.