An engineer by trade, Juan Verzeri is the man charged with masterminding what would be Uruguay’s first-ever FIFA U-20 World Cup triumph.
Well versed in the tactical side of football, he enthusiastically took up FIFA.com’s invitation to analyse La Celeste’s impressive run of results at Turkey 2013 match by match, and to look forward to Saturday’s decisive game with France, where his nation will compete in the tournament’s showpiece duel for the first time in 16 years.
Uruguay 0-1 (0-1) Croatia, 23 June – 20.00, Bursa
Opening day nerves
“The first fixture of a World Cup is a unique occasion, because there’s always a lot of pre-match nerves and a build-up of anxiety. We’d studied Croatia’s performances in depth – we knew that they usually started very well but tended to fall away in the second half. And that is pretty much what happened. The first half was tightly contested, with few opportunities for either side, but they managed to score at a key moment in the game [41st minute]. After that, the match completely turned around. We began to dominate and create good chances, but it just wasn’t our night in the end. They were really tough opponents, who shut up shop after the goal. I don't think it was a game we deserved to lose, it probably should have ended in a draw.”
New Zealand 0-2 (0-1) Uruguay, 26 June – 18.00, Bursa
Getting on the scoreboard early
“Scoring very early on [4th minute] was critical, especially as it was a game that we had to win – the goal really calmed our nerves. Even then, things turned out a bit differently from what we had expected. New Zealand had tried to go toe-to-toe with Uzbekistan, which was totally opposite to how they played against us. I suspect that the heavy defeat they'd suffered [against the Uzbeks] forced them to change their tactics, and so they sat back a lot, even though they trailed for almost the entire encounter. Luckily, in the 75th minute, we managed to seal the win with a goal that was similar to one we would later score against Iraq.”
Uzbekistan 0-4 (0-1) Uruguay, 29 June – 18.00, Antalya
“We just wanted to win rather than worry about what would happen if we drew, but before a match you never know if you'll end up winning so emphatically. We pressed them high and aggressively and targeted the areas where Uzbekistan’s key players were operating, as they'd been so effective up to then. From that point on, we created dangerous situations practically every time we regained possession. After the fourth goal we eased off, mindful of the challenges to come. This was the match when things really started to come together for us, as we improved individually and as a unit."
Nigeria 1-2 (0-0) Uruguay, 2 July – 21.00, Istanbul
“Nigeria’s group-stage results had been impressive and we went into the match having had less time to recover. We tried to gain control of the right flank, where they tended to get a lot of joy and, as we had done against Uzbekistan, we tried to move the ball around. We succeeded in opening the scoring from a set piece, but Nigeria soon equalised through a counter-attack. The important thing was that, after just two or three minutes, we recovered from that setback. We got hold of the ball again and started to pass it around well, and it was from a move down the right that Diego Rolan brought about a penalty, which [Nicolas] Lopez put away with a chipped [Panenka-style] finish. Given his technical ability, he's capable of anything.”
Uruguay 1-0 aet (0-0) Spain, 6 July – 21.00, Bursa
Sustained defensive support and Avenatti’s appearance
“Prior to the game, I’d spoken to some of the coaches whose teams had played them [Spain] before, such as Chile and Uzbekistan. Spain are able to marry individual brilliance, constant variations in play and a strong rearguard. When we spoke to our players, we just tried to stick to the basics. Our win was built on providing continuous support in defence, outnumbering them when they had the ball to dry up the service to their attacking players. Of course, we also needed to find a way to score, and in fact, despite not having much of the ball, we still threatened. In extra time, the arrival of Felipe Avenatti enabled us to free up Lopez, and keep the ball on the ground. We then took advantage of Avenatti’s height to score from a corner.”
Iraq 1-1 aet, 6-7 pens (1-0) Uruguay, 10 July – 21.00, Trabzon
Perseverance, as well as determination during the shoot-out
“Iraq ran non-stop for the entire match, and had up to five guys who’d played regularly for their senior side. We played very well in the first half, but football’s like that. Even when you’re the better team, you can go into the changing rooms one down. It was a tough blow, because they were only trying to play on the break and scored from a set piece. We then had to chase the match, which can often be an extra psychological burden, but the response from my players was excellent. They didn’t lose their heads or their way at all. We changed things around and ended up playing with four up front. Although we were behind, we weren’t all that concerned, as the team were pushing and creating chances. And the equaliser finally came towards the end. After that, my players showed huge determination when it came to penalties.”
France-Uruguay, 13 July – 21.00, Istanbul
Negating France’s game will be crucial
“We’ll have try to nullify their potential threat, because the French have a very technical style and, more importantly, experienced players performing for big clubs. Keeping Paul Pogba and Geoffrey Kondogbia quiet could be the key to the match, as they both have a wide range of skills – they break up the play and pass the ball on quickly. But France have also got two very good wingers, an extremely mobile No9, and a left-back who practically plays as a winger at times. It’s going to be a huge challenge for us. I think we need to look within ourselves, strengthen our resolve and try to produce one last great effort in order to achieve our dream.”