SOCHI: Edinson Cavani scored twice as Uruguay shattered Cristiano Ronaldo’s World Cup dream with a 2-1 victory over Portugal in Sochi on Saturday.
Paris Saint-Germain striker Cavani curled home a superb 62nd-minute winner to settle a thrilling last-16 tie and send Uruguay into a quarter-final against France next Friday.
Cavani had already put Uruguay in front early on, only for Pepe to head Portugal level in the 55th minute in a thrilling contest that was not the battle of attrition many predicted.
Pepe’s goal was the first time the South Americans’ defence had been breached in this tournament, but they stood firm after that and are beginning to look like genuine contenders moving into the latter stages in Russia.
The only downside for Oscar Tabarez’s side was the sight of Cavani limping off late on, raising a question mark over his fitness for the last-eight showdown with the French in Nizhny Novgorod.
“We are so proud and happy. It is a special day,” said Cavani after his match-winning display, before expressing optimism over his chances of recovering in time to face the French.
“I hope so. I’ll do everything to make sure I can take to the field with my teammates.”
Uruguay will need him as they march on, his partnership in attack with Luis Suarez combining with a formidable defence that is arguably the best in international football.
Meanwhile, European champions Portugal go home, Ronaldo and Lionel Messi bowing out of the competition on the same day.
“We are very sad that we didn’t make it. We played well in the second half and tried everything possible, but congratulations to Uruguay,” said Portugal coach Fernando Santos, who hopes Ronaldo will continue his international career.
“I am sure he will. Cristiano still has a lot to give to the game,” he said.
Ronaldo could not make the difference after Suarez and Cavani combined brilliantly for Uruguay’s seventh-minute opener on Russia’s Black Sea coast.
Cavani picked out Suarez on the left with a cross-field ball, before continuing his run into the penalty area and meeting the Barcelona striker’s return delivery at the back post, the ball smacking off his face and flying in.
Pepe breaches Uruguay defence
Suarez almost doubled the lead from a free-kick midway through the first half that forced a good save from Rui Patricio.
Meanwhile, Ronaldo did not touch the ball once in the opposition area in the first period. But with Uruguay sitting back, Portugal did equalise 10 minutes into the second half.
A corner was played short to Raphael Guerreiro, and his cross from the left was headed home from close range by Pepe.
After nearly five and a half hours of football, it was the first goal Uruguay had let in at this World Cup — indeed it was the first they had conceded in 2018.
But their response to that was magnificent as they quickly retook the lead, Rodrigo Bentancur teeing up Cavani for a magnificent first-time curling strike into the far corner on his right foot.
Santos threw up his hands in disgust, realising that coming from behind a second time against this Uruguay defence was going to be a tall order.
Goalkeeper Fernando Muslera did almost gift them another equaliser, dropping a high ball at the feet of Bernardo Silva, but the Manchester City man could only volley over.
Cavani then had to be helped off by Ronaldo before watching the rest of the game from the dugout with ice on his calf.
His side held out, and if he recovers, Cavani can look forward to coming up against his Paris Saint-Germain strike partner Kylian Mbappe, so impressive for France against Argentina.
But Mbappe is unlikely to find the Uruguayan defence so accommodating.
“France have so many young players who are full of talent, some experienced ones too, but once you get to the quarter-finals there are no favourites,” warned Suarez.