RIO DE JANEIRO — Colombia was already without Radamel Falcao. Now Uruguay is without Luis Suarez.
Instead of a matchup between two of the world’s top strikers, the Round-of-16 game between Colombia and Uruguay at the World Cup will be a test of which team copes best without its talisman.
Suarez was banned by FIFA on Thursday from all soccer for four months for biting Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini in Uruguay’s 1-0 win over Italy in their last group game, a result that sent his team through to the knockout rounds.
That means the World Cup lost one of its best and most colorful players, and Uruguay lost its main scoring threat.
Uruguay struggled badly without him in its opening loss to Costa Rica, when the Liverpool striker remained on the bench as he recovered from knee surgery. Suarez returned to score both goals against England in a 2-1 win, showing just how important he is to the team.
As part of his ban, which covers Uruguay’s next nine games, Suarez isn’t even allowed to enter the Maracana for Saturday’s match.
Colombia has already proven it can cope without Falcao, the country’s biggest star who missed the tournament after failing to recover from a knee injury.
Colombia was one of the most impressive teams in the group stages, scoring nine goals and winning all three of its games.
“We know we have done some great work, but we need to keep going,” Colombia forward Jackson Martinez said.
In Falcao’s absence, Monaco playmaker James Rodriguez has stepped up to become the team’s focal point, scoring three goals and setting up two more in the group stage.
“Something really important has taken place,” Colombia coach Jose Pekerman said this week. “I think everyone who knows football knows Falcao. ... He is one of the reasons we are playing in this World Cup.
“But the players have reacted in a positive way. For me, as a coach, this proves that my players have a strong character because they have played very well and shown wonderful performances.”
What Uruguay’s reaction to the Suarez ban will be is anyone’s guess. The Uruguay federation has already lodged an appeal.
The team didn’t immediately comment on the ban, but it does have players who can step up — notably Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan. Cavani scored Uruguay’s goal in the 3-1 loss to Costa Rica, but has been quiet in the subsequent two games. Forlan was named the best player of the 2010 World Cup, but hasn’t shown any of that form when he’s been on the pitch in Brazil so far. Defender Diego Godin has maintained his good form, however, heading in the winner against Italy just minutes after the Suarez biting incident.
Godin also scored a vital goal against Barcelona that gave Atletico Madrid the Spanish league title last month, and netted his team’s goal in the Champions League final loss to Real Madrid.
Many of Uruguay’s players have been here before, too. The team reached the semifinals at the 2010 World Cup, while Colombia hadn’t even qualified for the tournament since 1998.
Colombia defender Mario Yepes said before Thursday’s FIFA announcement on the Suarez ban that his team wasn’t worried about whether the striker would be playing or not.
“We are thinking only of our work,” Yepes said.
“It is going to be a difficult match, very difficult, because we have had the opportunity of watching Uruguay’s matches during the World Cup, and we have seen it is a difficult team (to play).”