Natal: Italy must find a way to shut down Uruguay striker Luis Suarez when the teams clash at the Estadio das Dunas, here, on Tuesday in a showdown that will decide who goes through to last 16.
Uruguay, semi-finalists four years ago, will be on a high after Suarez’s double strike beat England and eased the pain of their opening 1-3 loss to Costa Rica — a match their talismanic striker missed as he was on way to recovery.
Italy also lost to the Costa Ricans 0-1, but their victory over England means the four-time World Cup winners need a point from the fixture, while twice champions Uruguay must win because of their inferior goal average.
If there was any team you would back to shackle a goal-scoring phenomenon, it would probably be Italy. That said, they would need to be at their miserly best at the back to deny Suarez and his strike partner Edinson Cavani.
“They are a very strong combination in attack,” Italy captain and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon said.
“The whole of Uruguay believes they can beat us and go through. We know plenty about Cavani, thanks to his time at Napoli. But we know hardly anything about Suarez.
“Now, we have to send some positive signals and the only way to do so is to raise our game against Uruguay,” he added.
Coach Cesare Prandelli may have to change his team with defensive midfielder Daniele De Rossi highly unlikely to play because of a leg injury. Praised for his positive 4-1-4-1 formation after the victory over England and then pilloried for the same tactics after the Costa Rica defeat, Prandelli might switch to 3-5-2 against the Uruguayans.
Mario Balotelli would retain his place up front with the in-form Ciro Immobile joining him in a gamble on an untested strike partnership.
“It would be a novelty, with all the benefits and risks that are associated with that,” said Buffon. “If this choice is made, what happens on the field will tell us if it was the right decision.”
With Suarez already confirmed as fit to play by the Uruguay team doctor despite pre-tournament knee surgery, and captain Diego Lugano still an injury doubt, coach Oscar Tabarez could stick with the same line-up that beat England.
He will be looking for another energetic performance from midfielders Alvaro Gonzalez and Nicolas Lodeiro, who he brought into the side after the lacklustre display against Costa Rica.
Spirits are certainly high in ‘La Celeste’ camp since their fantastic win over England. “I have a group who are used to resisting pressure and who react to it in a good way.
“The pressure was worse against England, or do you think that we’d gone shopping?” said Tabarez.
But Tabarez, who went through stints with AC Milan and Cagliari in the ’90s, acknowledges the challenge the Azzurris pose. “They’ve been world champions four times and we have a lot of respect for them. It will be a tough challenge for us, but I believe we’ll have our chances,” said the 67-year-old.
Italy have had barely three days to digest the defeat against Costa Rica, recuperate spent forces and get in the right frame of mind. It’s only a year since the two sides met last, in the Confederations Cup third-place play-off, which Italy won via penalty shoot-out.