Uruguay finished first among four, beating European opposition and finishing ahead of an Asian side. The China Cup is not Group A of the World Cup, but Oscar Tabarez’s side may hope it is an omen. Likewise, a 1-0 win over Wales ought to offer warnings to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Russia, their summer opponents.
If scouting reports are focused on the familiar suspects, there are reasons for that. Edinson Cavani was the match-winner, scoring the only goal. Luis Suarez hit both posts. Uruguay are built around their superstar strikers, their nine teammates charged with providing a defensive platform and quick service.
While they had used 4-3-1-2 against Czech Republic, they played an old-fashioned 4-4-2 on Monday. They looked to run in behind defences more than most. Quick build-up brought the goal, winger Cristian Rodriguez springing the offside trap to give Cavani a tap-in.
That tactic of getting low crosses in early ought to have produced another goal, Cavani scuffing his shot from Guillermo Varela’s low centre. Suarez’s willingness to play on the shoulder of the last defender also resulted in a rightly disallowed goal; he was offside.
While Uruguay only struck once, it was evident why only Brazil were more prolific in South American qualifying. Suarez and Cavani now have a combined total of 92 international goals, a total they ought to have extended further against Wales.
Ryan Giggs’ side were fortunate Suarez’s radar was fractionally off. He struck the woodwork twice in the first half, though both offered evidence of his movement, firstly in taking up a position near the penalty spot to meet Nahitan Nandez’s cutback and then in anticipating James Chester’s poor back pass before rounding Wayne Hennessey.
Cavani’s predatory instincts were also apparent when drew a spectacular save from Hennessey after latching on to another mistake. It reinforced the importance of being flawless against Uruguay; those who concede possession in their own half can be punished.
Uruguay do not prioritise ball retention themselves. They can be more direct than many of the leading sides. Because they select twin strikers, they can also be outnumbered in the middle of a midfield where there is no genuine playmaker.
Wales’ threat stemmed in part from Andy King, who twice brought saves from Fernando Muslera after finding space behind the two Uruguayan central midfielders.
That may offer encouragement for box-to-box midfielders or No 10s to attack Uruguay. That said, the employers of Tabarez’s central midfielders – Rodrigo Betancur is on the books of Juventus, Matias Vecino at Inter Milan – suggests they have pedigree. Neither is a first choice at club level, however, and it is the most inexperienced department of the side.
It reflects the way that Tabarez is splicing together his side from different generations, moving beyond some of his 2010 World Cup semi-finalists as they move into their mid-thirties. Five of this starting XI have at least 96 caps and Cavani was winning his 100th.
There is youth in the full-back positions, with the versatile Diego Laxalt at left-back; it will be intriguing if one who can operate in midfield is chosen as Mohamed Salah’s direct opponent on June 15.
There is an entrenched preference for the excellent Atletico Madrid partnership in the centre of defence, though José María Giménez was an early withdrawal, leaving Diego Godin alongside the understudy Sebastian Coates. Uruguay, who beat Czech Republic 2-0 on Friday, kept another clean sheet.
That owed something to Muslera, who suggested he remains one of the more underrated, acrobatic goalkeepers in the international game, flinging himself to his right to save when Gareth Bale applied a glancing header to Harry Wilson’s free kick. Yet goalscorers, not goalkeepers, are Uruguay’s headline acts and greatest menaces.