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Jun 14, 2014

One loss, big trouble for Uruguay

Our panel of pundits break down how Costa Rica were able to exploit Uruguay's weaknesses on their way to a 3-1 victory.

Part of the heritage of Uruguayan football is a love of doing things the hard way. And if the Sky Blue are to make progress in the 2014 World Cup, they have now made things very hard for themselves. That second-half collapse against Costa Rica means that nothing less than wins against England and Italy will be enough to get them through to the second round.

In the eight-year spell of coach Oscar Washington Tabarez, Uruguay have been defined as a team that plays within their limitations. At half-time, they appeared to be on course for a regulation victory; Costa Rica had enjoyed a little more possession, but Uruguay had more shots and a 1-0 lead from a scrappy penalty and surely would have imagined they could play out a quiet second half.

But this is an ageing side, and against revitalised opponents Uruguay looked sadly off the pace in the afternoon heat of Fortaleza. Their game plan is based on dropping deep, keeping the defensive and midfield lines close together, protecting the lack of pace at the back. This became impossible once they had conceded those two goals in quick succession at the start of the second half. Once they had to chase the game, they were in trouble, their lack of attacking inspiration exposed as much as their lack of defensive pace.

UruguayUruguay
Costa RicaCosta Rica
1
3
ABC, ESPN3 FT
Match 7
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The surprise -- and the crucial development of the game -- was that they gave away those first two goals from crosses. On the first of them, Cristian Gamboa put in a superb ball from the right byline. But Uruguay captain Diego Lugano would normally be expected to come up with a more decisive defensive header. And the second one was a slack piece of marking at the far post on a free kick -- even less forgivable because a set piece from a similar place had caused similar danger just a few minutes earlier. And if Uruguay are not doing the simple things well, they do not have enough genuine quality to get them out of trouble, especially in the absence of Luis Suarez, who will surely be patched up to face England on Thursday.

Uruguay, then, ruined South America's 100 percent record in the competition, which had been prolonged earlier in the day by Colombia's proficient 3-0 win over Greece in which James Rodriguez bestrode the pitch like a young prince and was rewarded with the crowning goal.

Colombia showed off plenty of virtues, with attacking pace and the versatility of Victor Ibarbo balancing out the side well. Against such limited opponents, the vital moment was the early goal. It meant that, unlike Uruguay in the second half, Colombia never had to chase the game. They could sit deep and break, meaning that the lack of pace in their defence -- in particular of 38-year-old captain Mario Yepes -- was never a problem. They will face much harder tests. And they can now start dreaming of a second-round tie, which they might have assumed would be against a former world champion (England, Italy or Uruguay), but which, after Saturday's results, might even be against Costa Rica.

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