There was no doubt about Edinson Cavani’s status in Uruguay’s starting XI for their World Cup opener against Costa Rica.
Injury to Luis Suarez allowed Cavani to take up the central striking role and carry the scoring responsibility for his side. But, first-half penalty aside, it was an indifferent performance from the Paris Saint-Germain forward, who is coming off his worst season in terms of goals in four years.
16 league goals is by no means a bad return; Cavani’s final tally was also a result of playing second fiddle to Zlatan Ibrahimovic for much of the campaign. But the lofty heights reached by the Uruguayan while at Napoli means there is an expectation from a striker widely considered as one of the best on the continent.
In defence of Cavani, Uruguay as a whole were poor, being outplayed in midfield by a team clearly inferior. The invention and unpredictability of Luis Suarez was a big miss, and had the Liverpool forward been involved, it’s likely we’d have seen more from Cavani in the final third.
But this isn’t the first time Cavani has been offered the reins to lead his side’s attack in the absence of the first choice. Ibrahimovic’s injury in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final to Chelsea meant Cavani was allowed to play centrally in the return leg. PSG’s failure to hold onto their 3-1 lead and advance can be partly attributed to Cavani’s wastefulness in front of goal.
It’s been reported that the Uruguayan isn’t happy in Paris, a story that’s rumbled on for much of the campaign. There may not be too many sympathisers for Cavani’s frustration. His issue is in Laurent Blanc being unable to accommodate him in his favoured position with Ibrahimovic in the squad, but Cavani would have been well aware of those problems when he chose to sign with the Ligue 1 club last summer.
It’s not to say it’s been all bad for the forward. There have been some breathtaking goals throughout the season. Cavani, often deployed on the right of attack for both club and country, has an excellent work ethic. He’ll see to his defensive duties in the way most prolific forwards wouldn’t. He’s powerful, skilful and, despite the drop from his Napoli days, still registered 25 goals in all competitions last season.
But he’s in need of a good World Cup, just as much as Uruguay on the whole are. Considering their wealth of attacking talent, Uruguay should be dispatching sides like Costa Rica, who were initially deemed the whipping boys of a group also featuring Italy and England.
Manchester United may or may not decide to revisit their reported offer of £56 million for the striker, but not too many will be convinced he’s completely worth it after the events of the past year culminating in a poor showing in Brazil. With Robin van Persie showing no signs of decline, Cavani may see most of his playing time out on the right flank if he moves to Old Trafford this summer.
He has two more games at least. It wouldn’t be a surprise if that’s all Uruguay have left at this tournament. After their semi-final finish four years ago in South Africa, it was a huge surprise to see them perform so poorly at the Summer Olympics in London in 2012, crashing out at the group stage.
But these two final group games against England and Italy will be an opportunity at redemption for Cavani. This isn’t a poor player who’s been troubled in front of goal all year. It’s simply a case of a world-class striker rediscovering his best form when it matters and convincing those who are starting to doubt.