Shorn of Suarez, Uruguay brace for Colombia
Rio de Janeiro: Rocked by the Luis Suarez biting affair, Uruguay will attempt to make light of their star player`s absence when they tackle Colombia in the World Cup`s last 16 tomorrow.
When Uruguay`s players should be focusing solely on the threat posed by James Rodriguez and his Colombia team-mates, they instead find themselves under siege in the wake of one of the biggest World Cup scandals in recent memory.
Suarez was yesterday handed a nine-match international ban and a four-month overall suspension for sinking his teeth into Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini`s left shoulder during Uruguay`s last group game.
It was the third time he has been found guilty of biting an opponent, after previous incidents with Ajax and Liverpool, but the heaviness of the punishment, which also saw him obliged to leave the team hotel, left all of Uruguay in shock.
The Uruguayan Football Association (AUF) immediately said they would appeal, while the country`s government was moved to describe FIFA`s punishment as "disproportionate".
Journalists descended upon Uruguay`s training base in the northeast city of Natal yesterday and while Suarez happily flashed a thumbs-up sign to photographers, his team-mates have shown signs of exasperation.
Captain Diego Lugano snapped when asked about the incident in a press conference on Wednesday, slapping away questions on the subject by saying: "I don`t know what you`re talking about."
The affair has distracted attention from Uruguay`s return to the Maracana, scene of their seismic win over Brazil in the decisive game of the last Brazilian World Cup in 1950.
Come kick-off in Rio de Janeiro, Uruguay and Colombia will also know whether it is Brazil or Chile who await them in the quarter-finals in Fortaleza on July 4.
In Suarez`s absence, veteran Diego Forlan is expected to come into Uruguay`s frontline alongside Edinson Cavani, as he did when Suarez missed his side`s opening game -a 3-1 loss to Costa Rica - through injury
Speaking before Suarez`s punishment was announced, Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez 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, and we`ve lost some, and he wasn`t there against Costa Rica either."
Colombia, meanwhile, are bidding to make history by reaching the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time.
On their only previous last-16 appearance, at Italia 90, a team captained by Carlos Valderrama lost 2-1 to Cameroon, with Roger Milla memorably robbing Colombia`s eccentric goalkeeper Rene Higuita before scoring the decisive goal in extra time.
Then, Colombia had squeezed into the knockout phase as one of the four best third-place teams, but in Brazil they cruised into the last 16 with a game to spare and won all three of their group-stage matches.
Jose Pekerman`s side will also be buoyed by the memory of a 4-0 win over Uruguay in South American qualifying in September 2012, but Colombia captain Mario Yepes believes that their rivals` 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 in the same way that we respected 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 and 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."
Argentine coach Pekerman, who led his native country to the quarter-finals in 2006, will restore several first-team players to the starting line-up, including three-goal Rodriguez, after making eight changes for Tuesday`s 4-1 win over Japan.