World Cup 2014: 6 Key Battles That Will Shape Colombia's Clash with Uruguay
Such has been the media coverage of Luis Suarez’s biting incident with Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini that Uruguay’s upcoming round of 16 clash with Colombia in the 2014 World Cup this Saturday has dropped slightly below the radar.
Yet, on the first day of the knockout stages featuring exclusively South American teams, Colombia vs. Uruguay promises to be an exciting affair at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro—even now that Uruguay’s controversial talisman has been banned from the rest of the tournament.
Having secured qualification from Group D with two wins, six points and a total goal difference of zero, behind surprise winners Costa Rica, Uruguay will meet Colombia, which finished runaway leaders of Group C with three wins out of three and a plus-seven goal differential.
Here are six key battles that will shape a highly anticipated round of 16 clash between Colombia and Uruguay on Saturday.
Mario Yepes vs. Edinson Cavani
There are no two ways about it: Without Luis Suarez, Uruguay have lost one-half of a prolific strike partnership that can terrorize even the best of defences in the international game.
Yet, even on his own, Edinson Cavani boasts a complete striker’s package of pace, power, finesse and finishing. His record of 22 goals in 63 international caps, as well as a stellar career in Europe with Palermo, Napoli and now Paris Saint-Germain, says all about one of the most highly rated forwards in the game.
Tasked with handling Cavani’s presence and threat will be 38-year-old Atalanta defender and Colombia captain Mario Yepes, who has enjoyed an assured World Cup campaign thus far. He recently earned his 100th cap in the group-stage match against the Ivory Coast.
He will be looking to make use of his vast experience alongside AC Milan’s Cristian Zapata and continue what has been a fruitful central defensive partnership in the tournament so far.
Juan Zuniga vs. Cristian Rodriguez
Playing behind Cavani in a left-sided role is another potent attacking weapon for Oscar Tabarez’s side, Uruguay’s No. 7 Cristian Rodriguez, who stars at the club level for recent La Liga champions Atletico Madrid.
An accomplished dribbler with fearsome acceleration and an eye for goal, Rodriguez will be coming up against Colombia’s right-back Juan Zuniga, who has enjoyed an impressive World Cup campaign thus far with his attacking contributions down the right flank.
But Zuniga may need to focus more on the defensive side of his game as he looks to contain a much-changed Uruguay attack trying to make up for the loss of Suarez. Rodriguez will be a key part of a dynamic and fluid forward line.
Abel Aguilar vs. Nicolas Lodeiro
Alongside Rodriguez is Nicolas Lodeiro, who has featured as a No. 10 behind the central strike partnership of Suarez and Cavani in two of Uruguay’s group-stage matches.
A left-footed playmaker who thrives in a free role behind the striker, Lodeiro packs a punch from range with his left foot and is also an accomplished set-piece taker. That will make him a tough opponent for Colombia’s central midfielder, Abel Aguilar.
Aguilar’s defensive strengths will provide an important base for his attack and a key element in Colombia’s attempts to stop Lodeiro from keeping Uruguay’s attack from ticking.
Juan Cuadrado vs. Alvaro Pereira
Colombia’s right flank might see one of the most intriguing winger/full-back duels in the World Cup knockout stages, as Juan Cuadrado, one of Colombia’s undisputed stars this summer, comes up against the attacking-minded Alvaro Pereira.
Cuadrado, of course, has already scored in Brazil, as he opened the scoring against Japan, but it is his pace and dribbling that will concern Pereira and his fellow defenders the most. He has also notched three assists in three games so far.
Pereira found himself in the spotlight when he was knocked out in a challenge with England’s Raheem Sterling and refused to be replaced, even after the advice of Uruguay’s team doctors. He will need to be at full concentration when he comes up against an in-form Cuadrado.
James Rodriguez vs. Egidio Arevalo
As impressive as Cuadrado has been, even he will concede star-billing status to James Rodriguez, who has well and truly exploded onto the world stage with his goalscoring exploits this summer.
Rodriguez has scored in each of Colombia’s group-stage matches, as well as setting up their first two goals in a 3-0 win over Greece, and notching two assists overall. His contributions against Greece and the Ivory Coast earned him two Man of the Match awards from FIFA, while his exquisite goal against Japan after coming on as a second-half substitute got fans and pundits salivating.
So who has the unenviable task of stopping him? Egidio Arevalo, who has sat at the base of the midfield for Tabarez this summer. It’ll take more than just one man to be able to contain a rising young star finding his feet at the highest level.
Teofilo Gutierrez vs. Diego Godin
Good thing Arevalo has his captain Diego Godin—stand-in captain, to be exact, but Diego Lugano is no longer a first choice for Tabarez—behind him to help stem the tide of opposition attacks.
Godin has been one of the standout defenders of the tournament thus far, continuing in the same vein as he did for most of the La Liga season, when he proved himself one of the best defenders in Europe with his commanding performances and outstanding leadership.
Falcao’s pre-tournament injury deprived Jose Pekerman of his most prolific striker, but it has also appeared to have helped Colombia’s transformation into a tight-knit team focused less on their star player.
It has also deprived them of a genuinely world-class option upfront. Teofilo Gutierrez has led the line well for Colombia so far, but in Godin, he will face his toughest challenge in Brazil yet.