Wednesday’s World Cup action produced the results expected of Portugal, Spain, and Uruguay.
The big names delivered to help their nations end the day with victories, with Uruguay booking its place in the round of 16 thanks to Luis Suarez’s winner, while Spain and Portugal edged closer to the knockout round courtesy of goals from Diego Costa and Cristiano Ronaldo, respectively.
But the overall performances were far from convincing, as the trio failed to live up to expectations in matches against inferior opponents which were given little chance of advancing past the group stage.
While there’s no shame in celebrating Wednesday’s results, here’s the most glaring concern that each nation will need to address if their respective World Cup dreams are to be realised:
Uruguay’s lack of midfield imagination
In attack, there are few nations at the World Cup that can compare to the striking duo of Suarez and Edinson Cavani. The pair have established themselves as elite strikers after years of success at both the international and club levels.
But there’s not much they can do without service from the midfield. Uruguay will require more creativity in the middle of the park if there’s any hope of ending the country’s 68-year World Cup drought.
The midfield pairing of Matias Vecino and Rodrigo Bentancur simply weren’t up to the task Wednesday against a Saudi Arabia team coming off a 5-0 thrashing against host Russia.
Despite their abilities on the defensive end in helping Uruguay keep two successive clean sheets, there always seemed to be a massive gap separating them from Uruguay’s elite attack, which resulted in far fewer chances against a backline that Suarez and Cavani should have terrorised.
Lucas Torreira replaced Vecino late in the match and may have earned himself a spot in the starting XI after a productive cameo appearance.
Portugal yet to shed ‘one-man team’ label
It’s no secret that Cristiano Ronaldo has put Portugal on his back in the opening two matches, scoring all four of his country’s goals to put it in a comfortable position heading into the final group-stage encounter against Iran.
Still, few Portuguese supporters came away from the victory over Morocco confident that their team can follow up continental glory with World Cup success.
After scoring inside the opening five minutes, it was as if Portugal assumed victory was a foregone conclusion.
Instead, the goal seemed to inspire Morocco to attack a Portuguese side that looked vulnerable. Morocco’s desperation was evident, as the African nation’s pressure consistently disrupted any kind of rhythm that Portugal attempted to create.
Although there’s no denying Ronaldo’s ability to influence a match, there’s plenty of quality around him that needs to step up and help Portugal discard its reputation as a one-man team.
Spain’s loss of efficiency in attack
Creating chances never seems to be an issue whenever Spain’s involved. Wednesday was no different.
There were countless opportunities to bury Iran, but Spain’s inefficiency in the final third only seemed to strengthen its opponent’s belief that pulling off one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history was still within reach.
Despite dominating from start to finish in a match that was decided by a goal, which Diego Costa knew little about when a clearance attempt ricocheted off his leg and found the back of the net, there was a worrying lack of killer instinct from Spain’s collection of world-class players.
Spain’s finishing will undoubtedly need to improve as the tournament progresses and opponents pose more of a threat to make the 2010 World Cup champion pay for missed chances.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)