Seven World Cups between Group D and minnows Costa Rica seal qualification with a game to spare. This left the Copa America 2011 winners and Euro 2012 finalists to battle it out for second spot in the group.
Both teams altered their formations to a 3-5-2, Cesare Prandelli reuniting the Juventus defence and bringing in Ciro Immobile up front alongside Mario Balotelli, while Oscar Tabarez stuck with the same line-up.
The game was dull, slow and rigid with few opportunities for either side.
As he had done against England, Edinson Cavani dropped off the frontline and stayed close to the deepest playmaker – this time Andrea Pirlo rather than Steven Gerrard. This kept Pirlo out of the game, but the reintroduction of his playmaking heir Marco Verratti to the starting eleven meant they were still able to keep the ball away from Uruguay.
It also meant Luis Suarez was left alone against three defenders and Uruguay were struggling to get any footing in the game. In need of a win, it may have made more sense for them to stay with their 4-4-2 diamond, allowing them to compete with the Italian midfield through sheer numbers. This Uruguay team has always been functional rather than exciting however, and the Italian striking duo presumably scared Tabarez enough for him to deem a back three necessary, even if it meant sacrificing the attacking thrust needed to get the win. As it was, the sole invention for the South Americans was coming from Christian Rodriguez moving out towards the left behind Matteo Darmian, but given he only had the heavily marked Suarez to aim for it was of little help.
The more attacking Maxi Pereira was brought in at right-back with Alvaro Gonzalez moving into his natural role in the middle. Nicolas Lodeiro was brought off to make the change, who had been anonymous, but is essentially the only Uruguayan midfield capable of linking the midfield and attack, meaning all attacking impetus would have to come from the Uruguayan wing-backs. Italy introduced Marco Parolo for Balotelli, clogging up the midfield further.
Italy were comfortable and Uruguay weren’t taking enough risk to even look like getting the required win. Without Claudio Marchisio’s red card, they had little life. Marchisio’s dismissal was simultaneously harsh and justified – he was trapped in a tight space and was simply looking to step over and shield the ball, yet he caught Egidio Arevalo Rios very high. Ultimately it doesn’t matter though – Italy were down to ten men and had to deal with it. Winger Christian Stuani was immediately substituted on for Alvaro Pereira (although it probably would have made more sense to take off one of the less attacking defenders in the circumstances), yet Uruguay were still unable to mount serious attacks. It took a poorly defended set-piece with Diego Godin finishing with his back for Uruguay to score, and ten-man Italy had little way of making a comeback.
Suarez’s bite created a storm over what was otherwise a game devoid of talking points. Neither side have impressed at the tournament and were only made to look good by an even worse England team. With their star man presumably banned, there can’t be much hope of Uruguay progressing far unless it’s on penalties.