The latest instalment of one of football’s oldest and fiercest rivalries will play out when Uruguay host Argentina in the Estadio Centenario on Thursday night (Midnight BST).
Argentina and Uruguay first squared off in May 1901 and have since met a further 191 times, making it the most contested fixture in the history of international football. Extra edge is provided this time around by the fact that neither team is yet assured of a World Cup berth.
With four rounds to play, Uruguay currently sit third in the qualification table for Russia 2018, one point clear of Argentina in fifth. The top four teams qualify automatically, while the fifth-placed finisher will take on a team from Oceania in a playoff for a further place. With Ecuador still within striking distance in sixth, both teams have something to play for.
Uruguay made a good start to the qualifying process, winning four of their first six and seven of their first 11 matches, only to then suffer consecutive defeats in each of their last three encounters. Friendlies included, they have lost five in a row, and while they can still be expected to secure a place in Russia, it isn’t the foregone conclusion it once seemed.
Their hopes of ending that run seemed to lessen when Luis Suarez suffered a knee injury while in action for Barcelona in mid-August that was expected to sideline him for four to five weeks. But, not for the first time, he has made an unexpectedly swift recovery and while the most likely situation is that he will be in contention for Uruguay’s second fixture against Paraguay next Tuesday, current reports suggest he could even be involved on Thursday.
That would be good news for a squad that aside from Edinson Cavani (the qualifying top scorer with nine goals) lacks proven international goal scorers. With Abel Hernandez and Diego Rolan sidelined through injury, Christian Stuani, Gaston Pereiro and Sebastian Fernandez (recalled after a five-year absence) represent the options to accompany him up top.
Pereiro is one of a few new names finally starting to trickle into a group that has remained relatively constant since the 2010 World Cup. Las Palmas defender Mauricio Lemos and Real Madrid-owned midfielder Federico Valverde are the others who have received their first call ups. Strong displays if called upon would surely help accelerate the regeneration project.
Oscar Washington Tabarez has overseen a successful period since taking charge for his second spell as Uruguay coach in 2006, and their opponents on Thursday would surely have benefited from a similar consistency of approach. Argentina have instead have had eight different coaches in that time, including three during the current qualification process.
Jorge Sampaoli took over in June after the relatively short reign of Edgardo Bauza came to an end with a clueless 0-2 defeat away to Bolivia. He arrives with a clearly defined approach developed during his successful time with the Chile national team and continued at Sevilla that consists of a high press and a structured, possession-based attack.
The hallmarks of Sampaoli’s style were already evident in his debut 1-0 win over Brazil in a friendly in June. While the victory itself was fortunate, he will have taken encouragement from the manner in which the team adapted to his ideas. A subsequent tour of Europe allowed him to get some further concepts across prior to his competitive debut on Thursday.
Sampaoli made the bold decision to leave Juventus striker Gonzalo Higuain out of the squad for the trip to Montevideo and next Tuesday’s hosting of Venezuela. In his absence, Mauro Icardi is likely to lead the line, flanked by Lionel Messi and Paulo Dybala. All three come into the match having scored two or more goals for their club sides at the weekend.
Elsewhere, there are plenty of technically gifted midfielders and a lack of many genuine full-backs, suggesting that a formation with wing-backs is likely. But however he elects to align his side, Sampaoli will be wary of his opponent’s potency on the counter-attack. Earlier in the qualifiers, his Chile side lost 0-3 to a Suarez-less Uruguay in Montevideo.
Sampaoli has never won his first competitive match in charge of a team in nine previous attempts, but Argentina have recorded victory in each of their last two matches against Uruguay and come into this meeting with key attacking players in good form. That should be enough to give them the slight edge in what will be a tightly contested encounter.
Our Preview’s Uruguay vs. Argentina Betting Tips Verdict
If you are planning on a wager with one of the top UK sports betting sites, then here are our preview’s betting tips:
- Bet on Argentina to win @ best odds of 5/4 with Betfred or Betfair.
- Back Lionel Messi to score at anytime @ 11/10 with SkyBet.
Compare Uruguay v Argentina Betting Odds from Bookies