Uruguay (first in group)…Barcelona’s Luis Suarez has already opened and added to his account at the World Cup and has scored a couple of goals. And Monaco’s Edinson Cavini is on the scoresheet as well. Moreover, Galatasaray’s Fernando Muslera has already kept three clean sheets. But all that we have seen from Uruguay thus far is the ability to win what might have been the most-suspect World Cup group we can ever recall. Moving forward, how well the revamped midfield keeps possession and provides service to Suarez and Cavani will be key. The tests get harder from this point forward, beginning with Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal on Saturday, but there is an unmistakable sharp edge to the Uruguayan attack.
Russia (second in group)…As expected, the hosts were eventually going to get shown up, as was the case in the 3-0 loss on Monday vs. Uruguay. The consolation is getting back to Moscow at the top of the knockout phase. But the early flurry of goals came at the expense of the pliable Saudis and Egyptians, and let’s not forget how unimpressive Russia looked in the run-up to Copa Mundial. Early-round scoring hero Denis Cheryshev is familiar to much of the next-round opponent, Spain, as he plays for a living with Villarreal in Liga. Espana’s shortcomings thus far make the Sunday clash more interesting than it would have seemed a few weeks ago, but we get the idea that the Russians are living on borrowed time. And have already given their fans all they’re going to get in this event.
Spain (first in group)…Reading Marca or As from Spain, and one might think La Furia Roja has already been eliminated from the tournament. The fact is that Espana has advanced as Group B winners, but nothing has come easy, and some alarming cracks have been uncovered in the Spanish dike. Specifically, David De Gea’s ongoing uncomfy form in goal, and some curious miscommunication at the back between Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique, who have only been playing together for the last decade. What gives? Expect Fernando Hierro to make some personnel switches before the knockout round commences on Sunday at Moscow vs. host Russia; fortunately for Hierro, some answers might be on his roster. In particular, expect the lively Koke to be featured, perhaps at the expense of the disappointing David Silva, to add more bite to a partnership behind the frontline with Sergio Busquets. Hierro needs to make sure to continue finding a place for Celta de Vigo’s electric Iago Aspas, who salvaged Spain a point with a brilliant back-heel in added time on Monday vs. Morocco. What we do know is that Isco is now the featured performer, and it is time for Hierro to surround him with a bit more of the new blood. The old guard looks increasingly fragile. If Hierro can get it right, however, Spain could have a direct route to at least the semifinals, as after Russia it gets the winner of Croatia/Denmark, foes against which La Seleccion will be favored.