Uruguay head coach Diego Alonso believes his Real Madrid star Federico Valverde is best suited as a defensive midfielder, but that the team will need to perform better as a whole to allow him to “shine more”.
Alonso’s comments came after Monday’s disappointing 2-0 loss to Portugal, leaving Uruguay alongside Mexico and Tunisia as the only teams without a goal through two matches.
Following their failure to score in their 0-0 opener against South Korea, Uruguay were well-handled by the Portuguese, controlling only 40 per cent of the possession, although they only narrowly trailed in expected goals 1.33 to 1.27.
Not short on talent, Uruguay fielded a starting XI that included Liverpool’s Darwin Nunez and 135-cap veteran Edinson Cavani up front, while Tottenham’s Rodrigo Betancur partnered Valverde in midfield.
Having played both in central midfield and on the wing for Madrid, Valverde was deployed in the engine room against Portugal, and despite their desperation for goals, Alonso made it clear that is where he feels the 24-year-old is most valuable.
“I think Federico has played full matches with us in the qualifying round,” he said. “He’s played in the same position, even playing higher up.
“I think he played as a defensive midfielder with a second pivot together with Bentancur. It’s the same position that you saw today. He was even playing higher up, or as a wide midfielder.
“I think his main skill is playing through the central lanes. With us, he’s showed a great performance in that position.
“When you talk about shooting, I think he shot once [against Korea], it just missed the top corner. He was unlucky he couldn’t score.
“For us, he’s an important player with many skills. When the team plays better, I’m sure he will shine more.”
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Despite their lack of potency going forward, Uruguay still have a chance to advance to the knockout stage if they can defeat Ghana in their final Group H fixture – a rematch from 2010’s quarter-final where Uruguay advanced on penalties.
“We are looking for victory against Ghana, there is no doubt about it,” Alonso said. “If we have to make slight modifications, that is what we’ll do.
“We will provide a team all the weapons we have at hand, so I have full trust in my players. I’m sure the next game will be hard, but we will go all out so that we have a victory and we qualify.
“We are talking about qualifying or not qualifying. It was very important back in , but this is a different situation. It will be a crucial game, but has nothing to do with what happened 12 years ago.
“We need to feel free and move freely as we played during the second half against Korea. We need to gamble more and push forward, playing in between the lines and going for one-on-ones on the sides.
“Sometimes, opponents also play, they stop you, they know which are your main skills and they try to counter your play. But we need to continue trusting our team, our skills, the players we have, and to also give them trust to develop their game.”