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  • Luis Suárez 88'

Spain v Uruguay: Preview

John Brewin
All eyes will be on Luis Suarez on and off the pitch

The Atlantic port city of Recife makes its bow as a host city, for a clash between two teams full of familiar names at the Arena Pernambuco. The champions of Europe take on the champions of South America, and it might be expected that Uruguay will be more comfortable playing in Brazil. However, they have a poor record against the Spanish, having never beaten them. Considering how many Uruguayans have plied their trade in Spain, the two have actually only played each other six times in history.

Their last meeting was in February, when the Spanish won 3-1 in a friendly staged in Qatar. It would represent a distinct shock if that result was reversed.

What's on the line?

With three major tournaments in a row won, Spain have every right to consider themselves as the greatest team of all time. Ultimate victory in 2014 would cement that beyond reasonable doubt. But there is a blemish, a blot on this all-conquering team's international dominance. It came at the last Confederations Cup and the night that Team USA knocked out the European champions in Bloemfontein at the semifinal stage. It was La Roja's last defeat in a knockout match and the talk is of their targeting this trophy in answer to the question of what you give to the team that has already won everything.

All has not been well among La Celeste pretty much since their Copa America win in 2011. Oscar Tabarez was the experienced hand behind that Copa success but there have been definite signs of him losing his touch. Olympic medals were expected and a team of stars flopped badly in London. Last week's victory over Venezuela in World Cup qualifying was much needed, but Uruguay are still only in the playoff position in CONMEBOL qualifying. This competition is either a distraction from the job in hand or a chance for much-needed team building.

Style and tactics:

Spain hit on a formula in their build-up to Euro 2008 and they have stuck to it, though there have been variations. Vicente Del Bosque's approach is more risk averse to that under Luis Aragones but the results have borne him out. Tiki Taka has been unanswerable to the rest of international football. Whereas Barcelona have been picked apart of late, Spain are yet to be decoded. Their formation is 4-5-1 or the notorious 4-6-0, actually 4-2-1-2-1/4-2-1-3 with Xavi as the "1" ahead of two deep-lying midfielders. No Xabi Alonso this time might lead to a variation on a theme. Some experimentation might be in order.

If Spain are set in their ways, then Tabarez's Uruguay are anything but. His team have played a ridiculous variety of different ways during the time he has been in charge. Diego Forlan, now a veteran, used to play behind the main striker in a 4-4-1-1, but now the 4-2-2-2 is the norm with the old master now used as an impact sub. Tabarez's twitchiness may lead him to play a more defensive formation, which could be anything from five at the back or three, with wing backs given detail to defend their flanks. Outwitting the Spanish is the toughest test in international football, but Tabarez would back himself to do it.

Players to watch:

In Xabi Alonso's absence, Javi Martinez, perhaps the best midfielder in last season's Champions League, ought to be given a chance to prove his own claims to succeed the Real Madrid veteran. Xavi, as ever, will be the prime passer, in what will be his fifth playing summer in five as he builds towards his last World Cup finals. His telepathic tandem with the talismanic Andres Iniesta remains the best partnership in the game.

They are two leading names of this summer of transfer tittle tattle but it is time for the world to be reminded what Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani are about as players. Suarez's post-match words will be followed more keenly than ever but he has become his country's star man, while Cavani often fails to repeat his Napoli form with his country. Sebastian Coates, if selected, could be another to put himself in the shop window after his disappointing time at Liverpool.

What can we expect?

Spain to dominate possession, but to remain patient about getting their goal. They usually only need one to win. Uruguay will defend in numbers and rely on their star strikers to catch a break. Suarez, against the country he really wants to move to, can be expected to be a livewire with plenty to prove.

Who'll win?

Spain will win 1-0. It's what they do better than anybody.

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