Long-billed as having the potential to do damage at the World Cup, there was always the risk Colombia would fail to live up to expectations. There were concerns over the leakiness of their defense, and an injury to their best player, Radamel Falcao, in the run-up cast doubt over how set they really were to make a dent in Brazil. But in a tournament in which attacking has triumphed over defending, José Pékerman's side have thrilled and thrived, storming to three wins en route to winning their group.
The team they're matched up against in the Round of 16 are their near South American neighbors Uruguay, who are pretty much the antithesis to Los Cafeteros. Óscar Tabárez's team is largely made up of experienced hatchet men, whose game is based around winning scrappy midfield battles rather than intricate attacking football. They've lost the skill and verve that saw them win the Copa América in 2011, and the only way they can hope to beat Colombia is by outmuscling them.
Having already booked their place in the knockout stages, Colombia coach Pékerman had the luxury of being able to rest several of his team's stars in their final group game against Japan. Tellingly, they still managed to win 4-1. Their regular first-teamers are likely to return to the fold here with no injury or suspension concerns, though Jackson Martínez could replace the so-far unimpressive Teófilo Gutiérrez up top.
The big news for Uruguay, meanwhile, is the absence of their striker Luis Suárez, who has been handed a nine-game and four-month ban from football for gnawing on the shoulder of Giorgio Chiellini in the Celeste's dramatic group stage win over Italy. The vastly inferior Diego Forlán will likely come into his position up top, though Tabárez isn't likely to make any changes elsewhere.
Projected lineups (left to right)
Uruguay (4-4-2): Fernando Muslera; Álvaro Pereira, Diego Godín, José María Giménez, Martín Cáceres; Cristian Rodríguez, Egidio Arévalo Ríos, Nicolás Lodeiro, Álvaro González; Diego Forlán, Edinson Cavani.
James Rodríguez vs. Egidio Arévalo Ríos - Colombia's playmaker James Rodríguez has probably been the best player of the entire tournament so far, with Pékerman's decision to move him off the left flank and into a more free, central role paying great dividends. He can regularly be found dropping deep or pushing high, and is capable of dictating play from both positions -- as well as breaking forward to become a goal threat himself. It'll likely be up to Uruguay's more defensive central midfielder, Egidio Arévalo Ríos, to limit his influence.
The wide battle - Rodríguez is the man at the heart of Colombia's central play, though if Uruguay successfully deny him little space between the lines, he could struggle to be influential in dangerous areas. In that instance, the wide battle would be a lot more important, with Colombia no doubt looking to create problems for Uruguay's defense through the directness of winger Juan Cuadrado down the right, and the tireless industry of fullbacks Pablo Armero and Juan Zúñiga. Uruguay's wide midfielders, Cristian Rodríguez and Álvaro González, will have to work hard to shield their own fullbacks and make sure Los Cafeteros can't isolate them on the flanks.
Colombia's center backs vs. Uruguay's directness - Uruguay's gameplan is fairly rudimentary. They'll probably line up a 4-4-2, and will look to pack men behind the ball when out of possession before hitting long balls up to their strikers as soon as they win it back. It's a strategy that elite center backs probably wouldn't be too worried about facing, but Mario Yepes and Cristián Zapata -- who have both been perfectly good so far -- aren't quite in that top bracket. They'll have to be vigilant to withstand such an aerial bombardment.
Colombia are a good side, and a Luis Suárez-less Uruguay are a pretty mediocre one. Coach Tabárez is a wily old fox and the Celeste shouldn't be easy to beat, but they'll probably end up on the losing side. 2-0 Colombia.