Italy must find a way to shut down Uruguay striker Luis Suarez when the teams clash at the Arena das Dunas today in a World Cup showdown which will decide who goes through to the round-of-16.
Uruguay, semi-finalists four years ago, arrive in Natal on an almighty high after Suarez’s brace beat England and eased the pain of their opening 3-1 loss to Costa Rica — a match their totemic striker missed as he recovered his fitness.
Italy also lost to Costa Rica 1-0, but their opening victory over England means the four-time World Cup winners need a point from the fixture, while twice champions Uruguay must win because of their inferior goal-difference.
If there was any team you would back to shackle a goalscoring phenomenon it would probably be Italy, but they will need to be at their miserly best at the back to deny Suarez and his strike partner Edinson Cavani.
“They are a very strong combination in attack,” Italy captain and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon told reporters on Sunday. “This is not something we’re discovering now. They’ve established their reputation as a duo for Uruguay and on their own for their clubs.”
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli will almost certainly have to change his team, with defensive midfielder Daniele de Rossi highly unlikely to play because of a leg injury.
Praised for his positive 4-1-4-1 system after the victory over England, and then pilloried for the same tactics after the Costa Rica defeat, Prandelli might switch to a 3-5-2 formation for the Uruguay clash.
Mario Balotelli would retain his place up front with the in-form Ciro Immobile joining him in a gamble on an untested strike partnership.
“It would be a novelty, with all the benefits and risks that are associated with that,” Buffon said. “If this choice is made, what happens on the field will tell us if it was the right decision.”
With Suarez already confirmed as fit to play by the Uruguay team doctor, despite pre-tournament knee surgery, and captain Diego Lugano still an injury doubt, coach Oscar Tabarez could stick with the same lineup that beat England.
He will be looking for another energetic performance from midfielders Alvaro Gonzalez and Nicolas Lodeiro, who he brought into the side after the lackluster display against Costa Rica.
Italy and Uruguay played out an entertaining 2-2 draw in the FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil last year, with Italy claiming a third-place playoff win by 3-2 in a penalty shootout.
Buffon, who saved three penalties in that shootout, believes how well Italy recover from their disappointing defeat by Costa Rica will go a long way to deciding whether the Azzurri progress.
“When you come from a defeat like that, you’ve got to find the energy over the next few days to put things right,” the 36-year-old said. “When we’re facing a challenge, that’s when we respond best.”