Uruguay v Japan: Laxalt not taking Japan lightly
Uruguay left-back Diego Laxalt does not want his team-mates to take Japan lightly despite the sides' sharply contrasting openings to their Copa America campaigns.
Assisted by a first-half red card for Jose Quinteros, Uruguay made an emphatic start to the tournament as they thrashed Ecuador 4-0. Japan's guest status did not afford them any soft treatment, meanwhile, as holders Chile triumphed by the same scoreline.
"I don't know," Laxalt replied when asked whether a youthful Japan squad, selected with an eye on next year's Olympic Games, were the weakest team in Group C ahead of their meeting in Porto Alegre on Thursday. "We watched a little bit of their match. The score maybe was not deserved because they had a few chances, with lots of missed opportunities. I saw them with high intensity, great speed, great players as well. I don't see it as an easy game whatsoever.
"We already played against Japan a few months ago and it was hard for us. So, we must think that we're facing a great opponent."
That October friendly in Saitama ended in a 4-3 victory for Japan, with Matias Vecino absent for Uruguay. It will be the same at Arena do Gremio after the influential midfielder suffered a thigh injury to curtail his tournament.
Arsenal's Lucas Torreira is favourite to start in Vecino's absence, which will not entirely temper enthusiasm around the prospects of an experienced and well-drilled Celeste side collecting their country's 16th crown in this competition, including in its former guise as the South American Championship.
"Even before we arrived here, you could hear people talking about us being strong," Laxalt added. "Last match, we had a great game. We had a great score, made lots of goals, but that doesn't mean anything. We need to keep on that path, thinking of the next match in order to continue forward. We're focusing on Japan."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Uruguay – Rodrigo Bentancur
An impressive season at Juventus has reportedly left Bentancur on the verge of a new long-term contract with the Serie A champions and Vecino's injury means there is greater onus on an all-action performer retaining his excellent form in the Uruguay engine room.
Japan – Takefusa Kubo
The Real Madrid-bound teenager showed flashes of his prodigious talent in the Chile defeat and will be keen to embellish his reputation against one of the strongest defences in international football.
KEY OPTA FACTS
- Uruguay have won four and lost two of their previous seven encounters with Japan. This will be the first competitive meeting between the countries.
- Japan's opening loss was their heaviest defeat for four years – also a 4-0 reverse to South American opposition in a 2014 friendly against Brazil.
- The Blue Samurai are still searching for a maiden Copa America win having lost two and drawn on their only previous appearance in 1999.
- Uruguay have won their past four games by three or more goals – the first time in their history La Celeste have managed such a run.
- Luis Suarez has had a hand in eight goals across his seven Copa America appearances, producing his fifth goal and third assist in the Ecuador rout.