Uruguay vs Portugal: Diego Godin proves why he remains one of the world's best - scouting report

Uruguay kept three clean sheets in the group stages, with Godin had the best defensive stats of any player

Jack Watson
Saturday 30 June 2018 21:09
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Portugal national anthem round of 16

You have to go as far back as 2006 to find the last time a defender was in the top three of the Ballon d’Or, or 2014 if you want to include Manuel Neuer. Anyway, the point is that the eye-catching and headline-writing forwards have taken the affection away from the art of defending.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar all have the ability to win matches on their own in those split-second moments which capture the imagination. What is forgotten are the generals at the back who hold on to leads and give the stars their limelight.

One player who captures the selfless work of a defender is Uruguay and Atletico Madrid defender Diego Godin. “Godin had always had a very defined personality,” said Uruguay manager Oscar Tabarez. “He shows solidarity and that has made him stand out the group and it has rubbed off on them too.

“He earned the captaincy for his achievements and his commitment and his example, and in a certain way he represents the very best of a nation like Uruguay.”

No player completed more clearances (12), more tackles (8) and won more aerial duels (8) during the group stages than Godin, who emerged from the first three games as part of the only team to not concede a goal in the World Cup.

The same defensive resilience he showed in the opening round was again there for all to see against Portugal and Ronaldo in the round of 16. Godin and Ronaldo have met each other many times in Madrid derbies, on 27 occasions in fact. In that time the Real Madrid forward has scored two hat-tricks but fired blanks in 13 of the last 20 matches.

Diego Godin has faced Cristiano Ronaldo on 27 previous occasions 

As soon as Edinson Cavani headed Uruguay into a seventh minute lead, Portugal’s task of scoring past the perfect defence became significantly harder.

Ronaldo tried everything, but Uruguay are set up to play around their best player: Godin. The team were sat deep to prevent his lack of pace being exposed, and any attack in front of them was neutralised by a sea of blue players. Crosses were headed away and long shots were blocked. Portugal were looked to be running out of ideas.

When Portugal did eventually breach the defence, blame could perhaps be levelled at Godin when Pepe headed in an equaliser. Raphael Guerreiro’s corner whizzed over Ronaldo, falling instead to Pepe who headed in. Godin was so obsessed with stopping Ronaldo, Pepe had snuck behind him and remained unmarked.

So just how good is this defence? It seemed that Godin had been dragging the team with him, and the one time he needed someone to bail him out, they conceded. Luckily for him, Cavani later stepped up to restore Uruguay's advantage.

While this game may have been a slight exception, Godin is continuing to show at this tournament why he should be considered as the best central defender in the world. Sergio Ramos may come closest and it is probably a straight battle between the pair for the crown, but there’s a certain old-fashioned charm to the way Godin plays which edges him slightly ahead.

It’s telling of a team’s reliance on one player that the slightest mistake from Godin results in Uruguay conceding their first goal. Without doubt the veteran will be dusting himself down and preparing for the next defence to keep out. If Ballon d’Ors were awarded for achievement and individual talent, instead of whichever player has the best goals tally or does the most impressive bit of skill on the ball, then Godin would be clear favourite to win.

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