Uruguay 1-0 Mexico: Uruguay’s pressing leads to dominance, and progression to the knockouts

July 13, 2011

The starting line-ups

Alvaro Pereira’s scrappy goal set up a quarter-final showdown with Argentina.

Oscar Tabarez dropped Edinson Cavani and Martin Caceres, bringing in Alvaro Gonzalez and Cristian Rodriguez either side of a narrow 4-4-1-1, moving Alvaro Pereira to left-back.

Luis Fernando Tena made one change, with Miguel Ponce replacing Javier Aquiano. Mexico also lined up in a broad 4-4-1-1 system, with Giovani dos Santos behind Rafael ‘Lugo’ Marquez.

Uruguay played far better than in their previous two games, and only wastefulness in front of goal prevented them from recording a greater victory.

Mexico are now out, and Tena’s main priority here was to give experience to his young squad – the half time removal of his two most established players, dos Santos and Paul Aguilar (neither of whom had endured a bad first half) when Mexico were chasing the game at half time, indicated that his tactics were not primarily based around winning the game. Instead, we’ll focus on Uruguay, and their improvement.


With the exception of Chile throughout the competition, Uruguay put on the best display of pressing we’ve seen at the Copa America. Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez worked tirelessly from the front, and it helped that the formations were ‘matched’, so Uruguay’s players each had a man to close down.

Mexico sometimes got out of the press when Diego Reyes moved deeper, but Forlan was happy to continue closing down in that deeper position, and Mexico rarely got out of their own half.

Width from left-back

A complaint in ZM’s report on Uruguay’s first game, against Peru, was that Cacares at left-back displayed little attacking prowess, mainly because he is very right-footed and therefore had problems stretching the play. The use of Alvaro Pereira at left-back, rather than in the left-sided midfield role he more frequently takes up at international level, effectively solved this problem. The use of a narrow midfield four meant that the possibility of overlapping runs was important – although as it happened, the early lead through Pereira’s goal meant that Uruguay’s full-backs took up more conservative positions.

The goal was a scrappy tap-in from a set-piece, but it means Pereira how has a record of five goals in 30 international appearances, a decent record for someone in his position(s). It will also boost his confidence and make Tabarez likely to stick with him for the game against Argentina – potentially crucial, considering how Sergio Batista effectively played without a right-winger in the win over Costa Rica.

Forlan drops deep + wide midfielders run on

A little like Gonzalo Higuain the previous evening, Forlan’s contribution to the shape of the side compensates for a poor game in front of goal – he’s had more shots than any other player at the Copa, but is yet to score. He moved into very deep positions to pick up the ball – and although he’d done this in previous games, here he had two midfield runners who looked to exploit the space, and therefore there was more fluidity and cohesion to Uruguay’s attacking movement. Suarez also seemed happy as an out-and-out striker, working the channels and moving to both flanks.

The other effect of the two wide players coming inside was to flood the centre of the pitch, a little like the way Villarreal play. This helped them keep possession for long periods, and ultimately resulted in chances being created.

Two holders + man-marking

As usual, Diego Perez and Egidio Arevalo worked brilliantly in the centre of the pitch, scrapping and breaking up play ahead of the centre-back. At the World Cup and Copa America, Tabarez has used 4-4-2, 3-5-2, 4-4-1-1, 4-3-3, 3-4-3 and a lopsided 4-4-2 diamond – but has never broken up the Perez-Arevalo combination.

At the back, Diego Lugano and Sebastian Coates tracked their respective strikers a long way across the pitch, often swapping side as they did so because of the movement of dos Santos and Marquez. Coates had another good game.


Just as Argentina finally found form after making sweeping changes, Uruguay have done similar. In terms of personnel it was less dramatic – only two changes – but with Pereira changing position too, plus a different shape to the way the front two played, it was a vastly different Uruguay side as a whole.

The game with Argentina will be interesting, particularly in terms of how Tabarez deals with Messi – the Perez-Arevalo combination will be needed more than ever. As always with Tabarez, however, the rest of the side is entirely up for debate – which means it should be a fascinating tactical battle.

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