Italy take on Uruguay in their Group D clash at the Estádio das Dunas in Natal on Wednesday, June 25, from 2am (AEST).
Two sides trumped by the previously lowly-rated Costa Ricans have it all to do to keep their World Cup hopes alive in this do-or-die clash. Nothing but goal difference separates them and something has to give.
Head to head
Played 8: Italy 3 wins, Uruguay 2 wins, 3 draws
Next to nothing has separated these two football powerhouses when they faced off.
Interestingly, La Celeste have never breached Italian lines at a World Cup, which is something they will need to rectify in a hurry.
Uruguay triumphed against the Italians in a friendly in 2011 before the Azzurri exacted revenge in the third place play-off at last year’s Confederations Cup.
They did need penalties to overcome their dazzling opponents on the day, adding extra spice to a hit-out that needs no more.
The equation is simple. Italy’s superior goal difference means that it will progress to the last 16 with either a draw or a win. Uruguay on the other hand need to win to leapfrog the Italians.
Oscar Tabarez’s men undeniably have all the momentum leading up to this. They were clinical in front of goal against England and looked to have regained their characteristic spark as their last match wore on.
The Uruguayan tactician has made no secret of the fact that his side will adopt a counter-attacking approach in order to unlock the Italians.
They will be further buoyed by the fact that star striker Luis Suarez has already hit his straps, while their defence appears to have tightened up following a number of selection changes.
Maximiliano Pereira is available for selection after returning from suspension, but they are likely to miss the services of Alvaro Pereira and skipper Diego Lugano through concussion and a knee injury respectively.
Italy on the other hand will have been licking their wounds in the aftermath of a concerning showing in their loss to Costa Rica. Their jaded performance shed light on a team that looks shaky when not permitted to play their game.
Formation and line-up changes will be rung in an attempt to liven up the team.
Coach Cesare Prandelli may revert back to a 3-5-2 system and opt to start Serie A leading goal scorer Ciro Immobile alongside Mario Balotelli up front.
Mattia De Sciglio’s return to fitness provides a further option in defence, although Leonardo Bonucci is tipped to come in in place of Ignazio Abate. Daniele De Rossi will miss out with a calf niggle.
The big issue
Four-time World Cup winners Italy have been unable to deal with the challenging conditions, having wavered in the second period of both the Costa Rica and England hit outs.
At times it has led to a protracted and painfully slow tempo that has not done them any favours. Substitutions have not helped the cause, thus raising serious questions about their preparation.
With and early afternoon kick-off, and warm conditions expected, they will want to avoid trailing and chasing the game in the latter stages in order to offset this major limitation.
The game breaker
Uruguay’s only goals of the tournament in open play have come from one man – Luis Suarez.
The 27-year-old proved to the world against England that he has what it takes to stand up on the biggest stage and completely unravel teams on his own.
The speedy forward will get most of his opportunities on the break and this is where he can be at his most lethal with his pace and ruthlessness in front of goal.
Italy’s normally reliable backline will need to be at their absolute best to try and thwart one of the world’s greatest strikers.
Prediction: Italy 1 – 1 Uruguay
A tactical battle will no doubt ensue with proceedings on a knife-edge. Goals will be hard to come by in what will be a tight and cagey affair. Each team to share the spoils in Natal.