Inevitably the Luis Suárez situation has overshadowed the build-up to today’s second round match. And while he will be absent the disgraced striker embodies what promises to be a fascinating clash of the two South American schools at the Maracanã.
Suárez contains within him the light and dark of South American football with his endlessly creative skill and a win-at-all-costs temperament that has dragged him into disgrace just as South American teams over the decades have seduced fans across the globe with their flair as others gained a reputation for thuggery.
With its emphasis on open attacking play, Colombia has always belonged to the futebol arte school of the South American game. At this World Cup it has fielded a side true to traditions, having in playmaker James Rodríguez a strong candidate for the player of the tournament.
Uruguay are from an altogether grittier school, famed for its garra – a tenacious spirit – embodied by Álvaro Pereira, who practically threw a tantrum when it was suggested he be subbed after being knocked out against England.
Colombia may have romped through Group C with three victories but Uruguay will not concede them the same amount of space to run into as did Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan. Enormous effort
Without Suárez, Uruguayan coach Óscar Tabárez will be even more inclined to have Colombia play in front of his team and look to hit them on the break through his one remaining world-class player, striker Edinson Cavani.
This strategy will demand an enormous effort from midfielders Cristian Rodríguez and Maximiliano Pereira, who will be asked to sit just in front of the defence and try to link up when possible with Cavani.
To break down Uruguay Colombia will need to rely on their attacking full-backs Juan Zúñiga and Pablo Armero getting forward. Armero will be seeking to link up with winger Juan Cuadrado, who alongside James is part of an attack whose nine goals have caused many to already forget about the absence of Radamel Falcao.
With such talent at its disposal, with a clear technical advantage over a rival sunk in controversy after seeing its star player suspended and counting on the support of thousands of fans that have followed the team during the tournament, Colombia look perfectly poised to finally make an impression on the latter stages of a World Cup and qualify for the quarter finals for the first time in its history.
But they will know that Uruguay is never more dangerous an opponent than when it feels the world is against it. Its team has always performed better when the underdog.