Spain and Uruguay meet for the first time since 2005 in a
money grab friendly in Dohar, Qatar. This match was originally scheduled to be played in Portugal but a $4 million dollar donation swayed the Spanish federation to move the venue.
Financial humor aside, this friendly will be important to Oscar Tabarez's side as they attempt to get their house in order. Uruguay have struggled in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers, having lost three of their last four matches. They currently reside in fifth place (a playoff spot) on goal differential over Chile.
Despite their win in a friendly over Poland in November, Uruguay is haunted by the ghosts of a 3-0 hammering against Argentina, followed by a 4-1 woodshed treatment at the hands of Bolivia. Despite an embarrassment of riches up front thanks to the likes of Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan (who will likely start together for the first time since the Argentina match), this Uruguay squad simply isn't very good defensively.
What's worse is that their vaunted attack can also be shut down. They haven't scored more than one goal in a qualifier since June 10th when they beat Peru 4-2. That's not good, especially in CONMEBOL where the competition for the final two qualification spots will likely be a full blown battle. Uruguay needs some confidence and a positive result combined with a good performance against Spain, even in a friendly, could go a long way.
Who's trying to win a place?
For Spain it's a familiar roster for the most part with the only two players looking to make name for themselves being Malaga forward Isco and Chelsea defender Cesar Azpilicueta. Both players have been called in by Vincente Del Bosque before but have yet to earn a cap. Neither made get a chance to do so this time around either, but sometimes how you perform in training is just as important as what you do on the pitch.
Fernando Torres would probably like to try to win a place back but he won't get a chance this time around, having been skipped over. You get the sense that Del Bosque knows what he has, likes what he's been seeing and isn't in a big hurry to start tinkering unless something goes wrong.
Despite all the recent struggles, Tabarez isn't making many changes with his roster. There are only four players in camp without double-digit caps, so it appears that Tabarez is going to ride out qualifying with this group for better or worse. Given the defensive problems for Uruguay, there's a chance that Sebastián Coates or Matías Aguirregaray could make a name for themselves if given the opportunity.
Any tactical experimentation?
In case you didn't know, Oscar Tabarez's middle name is Experimentation...well, not really but it should be. Uruguay have used at least seven different formations in qualifying matches. We've seen a 3-5-2, 4-4-2, 4-2-2-2, 4-3-2-1, 3-4-3 and a 4-3-3, it's like they go in to the locker room and have a big "Wheel of Formations" that they spin before each match. Injuries aren't to blame either, for the most part it's the same faces shifted around. One might theorize that Uruguay's struggles could be a result of Tabarez's seeming inability to settle on a system.
After spending years setting up their current system and having won three straight major tournaments, you can be pretty certain that Del Bosque won't be experimenting with his tactics at this point.
What are the managers looking for?
Del Bosque will likely be looking for his side to continue doing what they've been doing so well over the past few years. Spain is in a good spot in qualifying but they'll likely be a little annoyed after drawing France in their last match that mattered. Uruguay should give Spain a solid test and Del Bosque will want to see a solid performance and a lack of complacency, since that might be the biggest foe to Spain's success at this point.
Who knows what Tabarez is looking for at this point. Consistency maybe? His defense to step-up and have a good performance? He might just be looking for some positives and some momentum his team can use when qualifying resumes in March.