Group H is one of the most exciting groups of the ongoing World Cup competition. It comprises Portugal, Uruguay, South Korea and Ghana. Portugal are bookmakers’ favourites to top the group, with Uruguay likely to finish second. Can Portugal handle the stiff competition expected from the South Americans who beat them in the 2018 World Cup?
How Uruguay Stack Up
Most people mention Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Spain, England, France and Italy as the countries with successful records in international football. Few are aware that Uruguay have won the world cup twice, in 1930 and 1950. Only five other teams have won the Jules Rimet trophy on two or more occasions.
Punching Above Their Weight
With a population of just 3.5 million, Uruguay have built a reputation for punching above their weight. There are nine countries in South America that are bigger in size. Yet La Celeste have won the Copa America title 15 times. However, it’s been 11 years since they last lifted the Copa America trophy.
Uruguay have proved that they have the football pedigree to succeed at the highest level. They had good performances to show in the group stages of the World Cups in 2014 and 2018. In 2010, they managed to reach the semi-finals. In the ongoing World Cup, bookmakers give them a 68.4% chance of getting to the round of 16.
Credit to Oscar Tabarez
La Celeste owe a debt of gratitude to Oscar Tabarez who managed the side for 15 years up to 2021. On his watch, they developed a strong defence and were able to create a template for winning. It involved crowding the middle of the playing area and relying on the likes of Cavani, Diego, Suarez to score.
Great New Attacking Talent
When Tabarez and Uruguay parted company in 2021, the team came under the helm of Diego Alonso. The new manager was quick to recognize the wealth of attacking talent that he could hope to exploit.
In the ongoing World Cup, the squad includes the likes of Rodrigo Bentancur, Darwin Nunez and Fede Valverde. Moreover, the team can continue to rely on the experience of old warhorses Cavani and Suarez. Adding to the many attacking options, the defence — built around Ronald Araujo –remains strong.
How Portugal Stack Up
Portugal have emerged in recent years as an impressive team in international football. In Euro 2016, they stunned the football world by upsetting France in the final. However, their performance thereafter has been disappointing. In the 2018 World Cup, they lost in the round of 16 to Uruguay. Likewise, in the Euro competition last summer, they got past the group stage only to lose to Belgium in the round of 16.
Strong in All Departments
Portugal are admittedly strong in every department of the game. Their attack comprises the likes of Bruno Fernandes, Cristiano Ronaldo, Bernardo Silva and Rafael Leão. However, despite the wealth of talent, Portugal have often failed to deliver.
Overly Cautious Approach
On the watch of Fernando Santos, they have been a little too conservative in their approach. As a result, they are less proactive in the midfield. They often end up trying to keep the other team from scoring. Take for instance their game versus Belgium in Euro last summer. Thanks to Portugal’s defensive approach, the Belgians got ahead with a lucky goal. They then proceeded to park the bus to prevent Portugal from drawing level.
Excessive Reliance on Cristiano Ronaldo
One problem for Portugal is their excessive reliance on Ronaldo. In 2023, CR7 appears to be a shadow of his former self. So, the likes of Leão, Fernandes and Silva will have to work hard to compensate.
Who Will Prevail – Uruguay or Portugal?
Bookmakers favour Portugal to top the group and give them a 91.14% chance of getting to the round of 16. Despite their loss to Uruguay in World Cup 2018, Portugal are the better side, this time around. Furthermore, Ronaldo will be keen to prove a point or two in what is likely to be his last World Cup
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