There are high expectations on either side of the Río de la Plata for today's Copa America derby, the first between Argentina and Uruguay in a competitive clash since August 2017. The stakes could not be higher either for both sides, who need a win to break indifferent runs of form and put their Copa campaigns on the right track.
While the Albiceleste have failed to win in any of their last three games, all of which have ended in draws – World Cup qualifying stalemates against Chile and Colombia followed by Monday's 1-1 tie with the former – Uruguay's big problem has come in front of the net. Also winless in their last three matches, the Celeste have also failed to score a single goal in that same period, with Darwin Núñez's strike back in November 2020 against Colombia the last time the nation managed to hit the target.
Veteran Uruguay boss Óscar Tábarez has received a boost in the shape of Edinson Cavani's return. The Manchester United forward, strongly linked with Boca Juniors before finally signing an extension in the Premier League last month, missed the back-to-back 0-0 draws against Venezuela and Paraguay but is now fit and ready to go, and will form an ever-dangerous forward pairing with Atlético Madrid ace Luis Suárez.
Argentina, meanwhile, have received some good news of their own as they look to contain the deadly duo: defensive revelation Cristian Romero has been cleared to play after missing out against Chile and is likely to jump straight back into the starting XI, with Lucas Martínez Quarta making way in Lionel Scaloni's plans.
Unlike their rivals, getting on the scoresheet early has not been an issue for Argentina; defending their leads, though, has proved rather more difficult. “It is true that we were ahead in all three games,” Scaloni told reporters on the eve of the match, while declining to confirm his starting line-up.
“We conceded in specific moments. In Colombia the 10th minute [of the second half], a penalty and the game opened up but we controlled the whole second half and had chances, we conceded in the final passage.
“Against Chile it was a moment of poor concentration from the team, something unique. We have been working on the team having to keep up what they do in the first half... and even if the other team scores, keep pushing, I don't see why we should change.”
Both Argentina and Uruguay, despite their recent mediocre results, should have enough in them to qualify for the quarter-finals, with four of the five teams in each group going through. The prime target of this first round is a place in the top two. That would ensure a spot in the opposite half of the knockout draw to formidable Brazil, barring some sort of unforeseen catastrophe among the formidable hosts; and guarantee that the Seleçao will be avoided until the final.
Scaloni at least seems to have decided what his strongest team is, largely the side which took on Chile but with Romero entering the action and a question mark at left-back between Nicolás Tagliafico and the more dynamic, less defensively proficient Marcos Acúña. So far the biggest criticism that can be levelled at Argentina (and, by association, their coach) is a lack of imagination once the game is in motion: strong at the start, the team has a tendency to drift apart as the minutes go by, and Scaloni has shown a worrying inability to right its course with substitutions and tactical modifications.
The wily Tábarez and his Celeste charges will look to take advantages of those weaknesses as much as possible, meaning that there will be zero margin for error if Argentina hope to finally break their winning drought and put three points on the board in Brasilia today.