World Cup Group D | Natal | Tue 24 Jun | 5pm
Pistols at sundown: a shootout for second round qualification.
It was always going to come down to this: the direct duel between two former World Cup champs for a spot in the second round. Italy can draw to qualify, Uruguay have to win. The twist here is that it's unfancied Costa Rica who go through in first place.
In Brazil, both teams have shown flashes of brilliance, moments of incompetence. Against England, the South Americans were a hair's breadth away from conceding when Wayne Rooney crashed a header into the bar (and should have had a man sent off). They pounced on two lapses in concentration to send Roy Hodgson's team home.
That's their good side. Against Costa Rica they looked bereft of ideas without their game-changing striker, Luis Suarez. Their rearguard was breached by some calamitous defending.
Italy, meanwhile, showed the smarts to dismantle an aggressive England (which might not be as impressive as it once sounded), but lacked the killer instinct to pick off a Costa Rica team with the bit between their teeth.
It will need composed performances from their spine - Mario Balotelli, Andrea Pirlo, Giorgio Chiellini, Gianluigi Buffon - if they're to prevent Uruguay's hustle and bustle from tipping over the applecart.
What the local media say
"Alvaro Recoba admits Italy and Uruguay face ‘the worst game that could have happened to both’, as he advises on how closely to mark Andrea Pirlo. The Azzurri face off against the Celeste on Tuesday in Natal to take the final qualification spot in Group D at the World Cup to advance to the round of 16. For former Uruguay international Recoba, who spent a majority of his playing career in Serie A, the situation could not have been worse." - Football Italia.
"Suarez admitted that after the first goal he had a feeling of relief, but with the second it was amazing. Before the second goal the Liverpool player said he was cramped in his two legs, but 'something told me to stay in the field. I only have words of gratitude. I'm overwhelmed because I'm back with all my force and all the adrenaline needed for this kind of matches. It's great morally and spiritually.'" - Merco Press.
Key battle: Giorgio Chiellini vs Luis Suarez
Against Costa Rica, the Juventus centre-half had a game to forget, struggling to shackle the work rate of Joel Campbell. A slip from Chiellini followed by a lunge at the forward should have resulted in a penalty.
He will face tougher challenges against a Luis Suarez seemingly auditioning for a move to Spain. His performance against England was eye-catching, as was the subsequent chatter of "suffering" at the hands of English fans who had the temerity to object to racism and assault. How he coped with the horror of all those Player of the Year awards, one can only imagine.
Not that he'll give a hoot. Another match-winning performance here should generate some interesting calls to his agent this summer.
Facts and figures
- Italy have managed just 2 wins in 9 previous attempts against Uruguay (including 1980 Copo d’Oro, D4 L3).
- Uruguay have faced Italy twice at the World Cup; they failed to score in both matches (D1 L1).
- Edinson Cavani has played a hand in 3 of Uruguay’s last 5 goals at the World Cup (2 goals and 1 assist).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Italian savvy to snuff out Uruguayan enthusiasm. 2-1.