Embarking on their first trip to the Round of 16 in 24 years, Colombia will line up against a Uruguay squad still recovering from the bizarre loss of top striker Luis Suarez.
The second match of the elimination round between two South American countries takes placed Saturday at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The winner moves on to face either Brazil or Chile in the quarterfinals.
Los Cafeteros are riding high after winning all three of their Group C matches and finishing second among all teams with nine goals scored, and midfielder James Rodriguez leading the way with three scores and forward Jackson Martinez right behind him with two.
Uruguay would have been the favorites to advance despite Colombia’s surprising turn, but Suarez’s suspension for the rest of the World Cup after biting Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini in the final group game leaves many questions about their attack unanswered.
Los Celeste manager Oscar Tabarez called FIFA’s ban of Suarez too severe. It included a fine and the suspension extended into his next Premier League campaign with Liverpool, but Tabarez fully backed his best player while condemning the organizing body for bending to the “English-speaking” media.
“To Luis Suarez, the person. The person who has always lived with us, someone we know better than anyone else,” Tabarez said according to The Independent.
“He will never be alone. To the fans, they, like us, are moved by the severity of this punishment: I want to let them know that we are hurt, but we desire more than ever to do well tomorrow and we will do our utmost.”
Now the Uruguayan attack again falls at the feet of forwards Edinson Cavani and 2010 Golden Ball recipient Diego Forlan. Cavani ended the group stage with one goal and an assist, while Forlan dropped back more in midfield as a facilitator with Suarez acting as the main offensive weapon.
Both experienced players with 58 international goals between them, Cavani and Forlan should find a way to paste together an attack without Suarez. But now with team captain and defender Diego Lugano battling through a knee injury, how Jose Maria Gomez settles in alongside Diego Godin to fend of Colombia’s attack is a whole other matter.
Who fills in for Suarez is another big question for Tabarez. He could load his midfield with a fifth player, or forward Christian Stuani could start instead. He’s made 13 international appearances and scored four goals.
As for keeping Rodriguez and midfielder Juan Cuadrado in check (the duo have five assists to go along with their four goals), that job will largely fall to Edigio Arevalo Rios with Cristian Rodriguez helping out as well.
TV Channel: ABC
Betting odds (bovada.lv)
Colombia win: 10/11
Prediction: Colombia 2-1 Uruguay