The first all-South American clash in the tournament pits Colombia against Uruguay in the last 16 of the FIFA World Cup at Estádio Maracanã. Both sides will be buoyed by results in the group stages. Colombia made light work of Côte d’Ivoire, Greece and Japan, while Uruguay qualified with Costa Rica in a group also consisting of England and Italy. One would surely be forgiven for thinking the final table was upside down.
So, how do the two sides match up? Uruguay went into the tournament as outsiders. Despite a good run at the World Cup in South Africa when it finished fourth after losing to Germany in what used to be called the third and fourth play-off (now it is the bronze final), Uruguay came to Brazil highly-reliant on one man. Luis Suárez, the man in question, was the villain in 2010. His use of the hand to clear the ball off the line against Ghana in the quarter-final may have seen him sent-off, but the Africans missing the resulting penalty ultimately helped Los Charrúas secure a semi-final spot.
Fast-forward four years, and having missed the 3-1 defeat to Costa Rica through injury, Suárez returned to clinically dismantle England in the second match with a brace. Yet in the final group game, he bit a player for the third time in his professional career and is now banned for four months by FIFA – never mind the next game against Colombia.
The difference four years ago was that Diego Forlán was at the peak of his powers. Having gone from strength-to-strength at club level since leaving Manchester United in 2004, Forlán was one of the best and most prolific strikers in world football. Now, with Forlán warming the bench and Suárez not even allowed inside the stadium, Uruguay has nobody to rely on. What? What about Edinson Cavani, one might say? Granted, Cavani on his day is one of the best strikers in the world. On paper he still is. His movement and ability to find space is admirable. Yet his disappointing performances for Paris Saint-Germain toward the end of the Ligue 1 season, combined with his willingness to snatch at chances rather than take his time, indicate he is a man lacking in confidence, if not fitness.
While some countries go to the World Cup at the start or during their domestic season, most of the top European sides go there having just finished a grueling campaign. Cavani, playing in France, means he is no exception. Admittedly, Uruguay is ranked higher than Colombia – by one spot – and Uruguay won the World Cup in Brazil decades ago, while Colombia has never made it past the Round of 16. Uruguay also had a much tougher group in 2014 – on paper – but history should count for nothing.
One Guardian Liberty Sports writer is of the opinion that Uruguay is a dead certainty to make the last eight, but I suspect it is more hope than expectation. This GLV sports writer became very attached to the teams in Group D and wants them to go as far as they possibly can.
Now, onto Colombia. The other South American side went to the World Cup minus its talisman Radamel Falcao, who was ruled out with a long-term injury. Nevertheless, Los Cafeteros comfortably qualified for the last Round of 16 with Juan Cuadrado, Jackson Martínez and James Rodríguez all chipping in with goals and performances when it truly mattered.
In a nutshell, Colombia carries far more of a threat in attack. Coach José Pékerman is proven at this level, guiding a formidable Argentina side to the quarterfinal in 2006. His decision to take off Juan Román Riquelme against Germany ultimately cost him the match – plus his job – but he had his side playing some of the best football seen in the history of the tournament. Now in his twilight years he is making amends for that decision and is leading his unfancied team with some aplomb.
You might read some opposing views on this game – including from this site – expecting Uruguay to win the Round 16 match at the FIFA World Cup, but it is Colombia that will come out on top. By some distance. Roll on the last 16.
Read more Guardian Liberty Voice Coverage on the FIFA World Cup Round of 16.
Commentary by Robert Shepherd