Welcome back to On the Break! Last time out, Maxi guided his Uruguay side through qualification and gave out a load of debuts. Now we’ve arrived at the big time, it’s the 2030 World Cup!
There were a few headaches when it came to selecting the squad, most notably at right-back. Diego de los Santos is the best right-back in the country by a distance, but has a long term injury and won’t be available for the World Cup. His former Defensor Sporting team-mate Pablo Leguísamo is probably the favourite to deputise, but there are other options too. Further forward there was a lot of clamour from the media for Darwin Núñez to be included, despite falling down the pecking order significantly during Maxi’s reign. There were also a few dilemmas to solve with the depth available in central midfield and on the left wing.
THE FINAL SQUAD
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Remember in the last post, where I said we were going to face Iran and Russia to prepare for our World Cup group opponenents? Yeah, I’m an idiot and arranged those friendlies for March instead of June! 🤦♂️ So we have those, and then for the actual warm-up friendlies I tried to get fairly similar again, and found Serbia and China available.
Not bad but certainly not brilliant. The Russia result was incredibly disappointing, it was a fairly even game but we just didn’t create enough to really threaten. That’s a huge concern going into a major tournament, but I have faith that the quality players we possess will be able to turn it on when it really matters!
A thoroughly professional job and we’re through to the second round. Japan gave us a good game, but we definitely had the best of the game and should have re-taken the lead earlier than we did – Ronald Araújo fluffed his lines from a 71st minute penalty – when the goal finally came though it was well worth the wait! A 95th minute screamer from Pablo Leguísamo secured the three points and sealed our qualification thanks to Japan’s previous defeat. We had to make a couple of changes against Ukraine to protect Alexander Rodríguez who was tired and Ramiro Centurión who picked up a knock, Santiago Brunel and Jhon Da Luz came in for them. The performance was a lot better, we nullified the talents Ukraine have and gave up just a couple of minor chances. The standout was Christian Colman, who’s hat-trick saw him move top of the goal-scorers chart at the end of the group stage!
Next up – Scotland!
We played relatively well again, dominating the ball and making some okay chances. Scotland were definitely set up to defend, and I felt if we didn’t get an early goal it would end up being another one of those frustrating matches. Luckily, that man Christian Colman was on hand again to put us ahead in the 37th minute with a tap in after Gabriel Abero was played in down the left. From there the game went the way I thought it would; bitty, scrappy and not a lot of quality. Thanks to our one-goal advantage though, there was no need for stress as Scotland created even less than we did, with just one shot on target in the match.
We did enough to see it through and secured a safe, but unspectacular 1-0 win. We were dealt a cruel blow however, as star midfielder and captain Rodrigo Bentacur broke his own foot trying to make a tackle, and will be out for 3 months, meaning he plays no further part in the World Cup. We have decent replacements, but he is comfortably our best midfielder and one of our best players, so it won’t be the same without him. Into the third round we go, which was our minimum expectation. I’d like to go further, but as you can see, it won’t be easy.
Even if we can get past France, which is a very tall order, we would then face England or Germany in the Quarters. Those three sides are ranked 2nd, 3rd and 4th in the world and all boast some incredible newgens in with the world-class players we already know and love. Maybe I’d have been better to let Ukraine top the group, they beat USA in the second round to set up a tie with Iceland!
Screw that! Who needs the easier draw, we’ll take on the giants and we’ll send them packing! We got off to a slow start, went behind after 12 minutes, and were lucky not to be 2-0 down within half an hour when Kylian Mbappé had an effort chalked off for a tight offside. 1-0 down at the break and creating no chances, we had a bit of a tweak to the instructions and encouraged some more counter-attacking play. Just three minutes into the second half we were rewarded, with Bentacur replacement Santiago Brunel bursting into the box to grab an equaliser. With the hour mark approaching I was stuck between a rock and a hard place; I didn’t know whether to try and settle and grind them down, or to gamble and push for a winner. Before I had a chance to decide, Ramiro Centurión took it out of my hands, volleying in from a Brunel cross to put us 2-1 ahead. Slowly, slowly the time ticked away, and France were threatening. We held firm though, to secure a famous victory and set up a quarter-final against England – at Wembley!
England are good. Probably better than France. This is what I was telling myself when I decided to start the match with the more restrained, counter-attacking style that had worked so well in the second half of the France match. It was a terrible idea. All it did was deprive us of any sort of attacking impetus, we just sat and allowed England to play their game, and when Mason Greenwood scored after 28 minutes I could have no complaints. After a first half with not a single shot on target, I changed back to our more familiar system and asked the boys to keep the ball more and work for our chances. I was rewarded within 2 minutes, with 18 year-old Federico Pereira – one of two half-time substitutes – picking up a ball that had stopped dead just inside the area and crashing it into the roof of the net!
Euphoria, and as big as I think his future will be for Napoli and Uruguay, this will surely be a career highlight of his.
Sadly that’s as exciting as things get for us. Three minutes later, Mason Greenwood was put through again and he dinked the ball over Diego Alfonso to crush our optimism. England are the first side we’ve faced that I genuinely had no answer to, and it showed as they held us at arms length and saw the game out.
I’m obviously disappointed to go out, but England have been the standout side of the tournament and deserved to win. Their squad is so strong that they have hugely rotated in every game and at no point has it seemingly reduced their quality, it might be one of the best international squads I’ve ever seen in Football Manager.
England went on to win the 2030 World Cup on home soil with an emphatic win over Norway in the Semi-Final, and then a narrow victory over Croatia in the Final. To further prove my point about the depth of England’s squad and the ability they have, look at the difference in their line-ups in the Quarters, Semis and the Final.
Goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale is the ONLY player to have played in all three, which to me is insane! Mason Greenwood scored twice against us, got a hat-trick against Norway in the Semi, and didn’t even get onto the pitch in the Final! I don’t know that I’ve ever seen this level of rotation at a tournament, especially in the latter stages, but it clearly didn’t hold them back as they were worthy winners. Greenwood finished top scorer with 7 goals, Foden and Greenwood were the top 2 assist makers in the competition as well as second and third in average rating, and Ramsdale was joint second for clean sheets with 4.
As for us, Colman came third in the top scorer chart with 5 goals, but our top performer was surprisingly left-back Mathías Olivera with a 7.46 average rating. I’d also like to mention Santiago Brunel who was only a bit-part player but excelled after replacing Rodrigo Bentacur, and Pablo Leguísamo who was only on the cusp of a call-up during this year’s friendlies, but stepped up admirably in place of the injured Diego de los Santos, and even scored a 95th minute winner for his country!
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
As I mentioned at the start of the last post, when this spell with Uruguay ends, the save will too. There are no club jobs on the horizon, and it’s also 2 years until the next Copa America. Personally I think this save has probably run it’s course, especially with Football Manager 2022 just around the corner. If I felt we had a chance of winning the Copa America I would maybe stick it out, but I think Brazil are just too strong and we’re lacking in certain areas. I’ve loved this save, first with Defensor and even the World Cup campaign with Uruguay has been fun, but I think there’s only one thing left to do…
Thanks for reading.