Saturday marks the start of the single-elimination Round of 16 at the 2018 World Cup. Uruguay and Portugal take to the pitch at 2 p.m. EST, and while the two seem evenly-matched on paper, one squad holds a significant advantage going into this winner-take-all affair.
Uruguay dominated Group A, as they became the first team since the 1998 Argentina national team to win all three group matches without surrendering a single goal. They made a mockery of host nation Russia in their most recent match, winning 3-0 while dominating the flow of play. Uruguay had 58 percent of the possession and recorded 16 shots compared to Russia’s three. Numbers like that have been the norm for ‘La Celeste,’ who have connected on over 84 percent of their passes during the tournament.
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Meanwhile, Portugal has struggled to maintain control of the ball for the majority of the World Cup. Though they managed to play ‘keep-away’ from Iran on Monday, Cristiano Ronaldo and company were out-possessed considerably by Spain in their opening match (66 percent) before conceding that advantage to a lesser degree (55 percent) against Morocco. They have also allowed their fair share of corner kicks, 13 in all and 12 in their first two matches, and that spells trouble for them as all five of Uruguay’s goals to this point have come off set pieces.
Portugal may have Ronaldo, arguably the best player in the world, but Uruguay’s front pair of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani can be just as dangerous. They’ve already combined for three goals at the World Cup and they’ll be licking their chops as they go against what’s been a vulnerable Portugal midfield through three matches. If they can forge an early advantage, that should allow Uruguay to rely on their stalwart back fielders (and Atletico Madrid teammates), Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez, and goalkeeper Fernando Muslera, who just recorded his 100th victory in his team record-breaking 14th World Cup match appearance.
Oddsmakers seem to be impressed with Uruguay’s World Cup performance, as they were installed as tepid favorites on the goal line and three-way lines despite being ordered 10 spots below number-four Portugal in the FIFA rankings. Consensus lines have ‘La Celeste’ winning in regulation at +175 (meaning a $100 wager would return a $175 profit) and Portugal at +185, while a draw after 90 minutes is listed at +195. On the goal line, Uruguay is -115 (risking $115 to profit $100) compared to Portugal at -105. The goal line play is a less risky option in a game that’s projected to be low-scoring (the over/under line was set at two goals), but the three-way bet is too enticing to pass up altogether.
The play: Two units on Uruguay to win outright (-115), one unit on Uruguay to win in regulation (+175).