Uruguay vs Russia: Who will top Group A? Suarez, Cheryshev in spotlight

With both teams assured of a place in the pre-quarterfinals, the contest will essentially decide the group topper.

Russia's Denis Cheryshev has already found the net thrice at this World Cup.   -  Getty Images

The 21st edition of the FIFA World Cup has witnessed a perfect start by host Russia – both on and off the field. While many teams have struggled to put forth a rollicking tempo, bogged down by the soaring summer temperatures, the Russian national side – contrary to pre-tournament predictions – has moved to the knockout stage with two gigantic wins. The country, too, has rung in the festivities with the localities lending an extra helping hand to make the stay of every fan a little more memorable. Midnight street parties and impromptu dance sessions have spread like wildfire from Sochi to Kalininigrad as the Russian public embrace the World Cup spirit.

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Coach Stanislav Cherchesov, theoretically, had brought the weakest team to the competition, as the world rankings placed Russia at the 70th spot, the worst ever for a host. In team sport, ranking, however, matters very little and the players have given their nation plenty to cheer about, scoring eight goals in two outings, while conceding just one. Functioning as a cohesive unit, the team has displayed machine-like precision, which would have made its Soviet predecessors proud.

Igor Akinfeev and his pals will now seek to continue their momentum as they take on another unbeaten team in Group A, Uruguay. With both teams assured of a place in the pre-quarterfinals, the contest will essentially decide the group topper. The winner, however, will have little to cheer about as Spain and Portugal are expected to progress from Group B.

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Cherchesov, looking every bit the stern drill-master, is categorical about his team’s single-minded zeal to emerge as the group winner. “We don't have any preferences concerning the playoff [opponent]. It's the football god who decides. We haven't actually thought about any other match apart from our match against Uruguay,” he said: “This is the World Cup. We’re facing a good team, and we need to do our job. Obviously, we have qualified for the round of 16 and this game can be a warm-up ahead of the round of 16. But we want to be the first.”

The Uruguayans, not afflicted by the disjointedness suffered by other South American heavyweights like Argentina and Brazil, have banked on their superior organisational skills to record a perfect start to the event. Oscar Tabarez, coaching the national side in his fourth World Cup, continues to reap the benefits of his focus on a solid defensive system – a ploy which earned Uruguay a third place finish in the 2010 edition in South Africa. The inaugural World Cup winner is yet to concede a goal, boasting the best defensive record alongside Croatia. Blessed with the lethal strike force of Barcelona’s Luis Suarez and Paris Saint Germain’s Edinson Cavani, the Latin American team, though, is yet to set the goal registers surging, managing just two conversions from its 27 shots on target.

The game lets the duo sharpen their skills before the business end of the tournament gets underway. For Russia, Denis Cheryshev, who has already found the net thrice, is expected to operate on the left of a three-man midfield with CSKA Moscow’s Aleksandr Golovin, who is a booking away from missing the knockout game, playing down the middle in a 4-2-3-1 system as Cherchesov looks to continue with an attacking approach. The experienced Uruguayan backline, however, will not be as easy to breach.