World Cup Ones to Watch: Edinson Cavani, Uruguay


Group A is among the most intriguingly balanced at Russia 2018. While Uruguay look the strongest on paper, there is no clear favourite. The hosts have the not inconsiderable benefit of home advantage on their side, and Egypt can rely on the irrepressible Mo Salah. Unfancied Saudi Arabia made it through the arduous Asian qualifying round ahead of Australia, so may not be the mugs many will take them for. Uruguay, meanwhile, have one of the most devastating strike partnerships in world football to call upon.

Uruguay are one of few countries certain to start with two up top for this summer's World Cup, and with good reason. Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez rank as two of the tournament's most formidable strikers, and experienced coach Óscar Tabárez is loath to leave either out of his starting 11. Behind the two frontmen, no other Uruguayan can touch the forwards for quality. 

Suarez has previous at World Cups, of course. He was the pantomime villain of the last two tournaments – his hand-ball goal-line intervention in South Africa scuppering the hopes of underdog favourites Ghana, and his bite on Giorgio Chiellini proving one of Brazil's most iconic and controversial images. His quality, however, is beyond doubt – even if that of his strike partner is up for debate.

Cavani has a chequered reputation in England. His goal return for both Paris Saint-Germain and Uruguay is sensational, but he's still seen as the sort of forward who will miss at least as many chances as he puts away. This perception was not helped by two Champions League appearances against Arsenal in 2016/17, in which the burly striker couldn't hit the proverbial cow's arse with the proverbial shovel. Plunk a Smeg fridge on the penalty spot for PSG and most fans would expect it to plunder around 30 goals a season in the French league.

All this is to do Cavani a disservice, however. He was unplayable at times for Napoli in Serie A – before PSG gobbled him up only to shift him out to the wing to accommodate Zlatan's monstrous ego. Since the Swede's departure, Cavani has stepped into his size 12s with aplomb – topping the Ligue 1 goalscoring charts every year since Zlatan left for Manchester. Fast, powerful, strong in the air and capable of ludicrous feats of skill – as demonstrated by his breathtaking backheel flick against Caen this season – Cavani is in many ways the complete forward. 

But Cavani is that type of player: a world-beater one week, woeful the next. If Tabárez can coax the former from his star forward, then progress from the group stage – and perhaps beyond – should be assured. 

The dream: To emulate compatriot Diego Forlan and claim the Golden Ball. 

The nightmare: Another Suarez controversy and a host of missed chances.