|Luis Suarez with his children Benjamin and Delfina in Lagomar, near Montevideo, on Friday. (AFP)
Rio de Janeiro: Uruguay must recover from the shock of losing star player Luis Suarez, who was expelled from the World Cup for another instance of biting, should they stop a high-flying Colombia in Saturday’s pre-quarter final clash, here, at the Maracana.
At a time when Oscar Tabarez’s men should have been focusing solely on the threat posed by rivals’ James Rodriguez, Teofilo Gutierrez, Jackson Martinez and the likes, they instead find themselves under siege in the wake of one of the biggest World Cup scandals.
Precisely, Uruguay’s qualification from the “group of death” had a lot to do with Suarez scoring the all-important brace against England. Barring his two goals, the Uruguayans have been able to score on just two more occasions in the competition.
While part of Uruguay’s preparations are hampered by having to dealing with the Suarez setback, Colombia head to the Maracana in a buoyant mood, having won all their group stage matches and racking up nine goals in the process.
The performance of the Rodriguezs and Armeros so far only reflected that star striker Radamel Falcao’s absence wasn’t felt even once.
With most of the players showing pretty good form, Colombia, under coach Jose Pekerman, have wowed crowds in Brazil with the kind of fast, flowing play that the locals demand of their own team.
They have also entertained fans with their salsa-inspired goal celebrations. It goes without saying they are well on course to make the World Cup last eight for the very first time.
On their only previous last-16 appearance, back in 1990, the Carlos Valderrama-side lost 1-2 to Cameroon, with Roger Milla memorably tricking the eccentric goalkeeper Rene Higuita before scoring the decisive goal in extra time.
Captain Mario Yepes, however, believes that their opponents’ superior World Cup experience will give them an edge.
“Uruguay were inconsistent in qualifying, but they are very difficult opponents and we must respect them the same way we valued our group-stage opponents,” said the 38-year-old Atlanta centre-back, who has become only the third player to make 100 appearances for Colombia.
“They have more experience and more history than Colombia. That is why we have to focus on what we have been doing and look to approach this game in the best possible manner, because there is no going back.”
For Uruguay, it will probably fall on veteran striker Diego Forlan to step on to the field and compensate for Suarez’s absence in the playing XI.
Tabarez, though, played down the likely impact of the 27-year-old’s absence against Colombia.
“If one player is suspended, another one will play,” he said. “We’ve already played lots of matches without Suarez. We’ve won some lost some… And he wasn’t there against Costa Rica either.”
It is rare for a £55million player to find himself perennially among the supporting cast but on Saturday Edinson Cavani will take centre stage.
Now Cavani must assume more attacking responsibility with Suarez back in Montevideo contemplating his fate. It is a familiar transition for Cavani — he operates for Paris Saint-Germain in the shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who stands as the dominant personality of a team going places.
Captain Diego Lugano, too, vowed that the team would not be distracted by Suarez’s loss.
“Nothing will hold us back. We will press on with humility, unity, determination, aware of the mistakes that have been made and with our heads always held high,” he emphasised.