Superstars Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez will go toe-to-toe when Uruguay and Portugal lock horns in a FIFA World Cup pre-quarterfinal here at the Fisht Stadium on Saturday.
The marquee match will see two teams who repeatedly punch above their weight looking up to their celebrated talismen to deliver the goods and keep the entire bunch together using their reservoir of experience.
Portugal’s Ronaldo has scored 85 goals in 153 appearances and looks in inspiring form this time barring the last group game where he missed a penalty and was involved in a VAR influenced decision getting away with a yellow card after pulling down an Iran defender.
At the other end is Suarez with 53 goals from 101 games but numerous controversies behind him including an nine-game international ban for biting Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini four years ago.
European champions Portugal qualified for the last 16 after an unconvincing group stage in which they tried to repeat the “solid defence and pace-on-the-break” strategy that won them the 2016 European Championship.
A narrow victory against Morocco was their only win in their first three matches and they will have to improve against Uruguay, who are unlikely to allow spaces behind their defence.
Portugal’s shrewd tactician Fernando Santos would not be too concerned about their draws against Spain and Iran en route to the round of 16 as he is known to be happy with the tag of ugly ducklings.
Santos, 63, is at his second World Cup, having led Greece to the last 16 four years ago.
In attack, Ronaldo will need the support of Goncalo Guedes, Ricardo Quaresma and Andre Silva in attack, while Jose Fonte and Pepe will be at the central defence in front of goalkeeper Rui Patricio. William Carvalho, Jao Mario and Adrien Silva are expected to feature in midfield.
Coming to Uruguay, before their 3-0 win over Russia the talk in the Uruguayan press was that the side may have beaten Egypt 1-0 and Saudi Arabia 1-0, but they were hardly very impressive.
Uruguay may have looked disjointed going forward, but they were imposing in defence and hardly gave their rivals a chance in their first two games. Suarez, along with Edinson Cavani will threaten the Portuguese defence.
Uruguay have yet to concede a goal in Russia, although going forward they have relied mainly on set pieces to score their goals.
Veteran coach Oscar Tabarez is at his third World Cup in his current stint with Uruguay.
Like Santos, the 71-year-old, has also won a continental title, the Copa America in 2011.
Uruguay, going by their form in the group stages, will have the edge over Portugal. But if Ronaldo is in full tilt, the charismatic Real Madrid forward can take the game away from his opponents and take Portugal to their second quarter-final.
To stop Ronaldo, Uruguayan central defensive partnership of Diego Godin and Jose Maria Gimenez, who is set to comeback after missing the third match due to a thigh injury, need to be at their best.
Martin Caceres and Diego Laxalt are expected to be full-backs and the midfield will see Rodrigo Bentancur and Matias Vecino starting.