Battle for South American supremacy
It is rather apt that the first stage of the World Cup knockout rounds has a certain flavour to it -- there are two all-South American ties, with hosts Brazil facing Chile and Colombia against Uruguay in the round of 16.
No South American country wants to face each other; the level is so even, the passion is so similar and they know each other so well that the clashes are quite close and intense.
Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari summed up the mood in December when he said: "We are ready for anything -- I just don't want to face Uruguay."
Felipao also spoke of his desire for Chile not to go through in their group, adding: "It is very annoying to play against them. They are a very organised and smart team whose system doesn't fit ours. It's better to play against a European team."
Both Colombia coach Jose Pekerman and Uruguay's Oscar Tabarez have publicly announced their admiration of the opposite team's qualities. It is a shame for Latin football that two South Americans need to go home so soon, but such are the perils of the draw.
No one in Uruguay is 100 percent confident the team will be able to overcome Colombia. The support and belief in the team stands behind the battle-hardened mental state the squad must be in after Luis Suarez's suspension. After all, Colombia have won all their games so far, becoming one of the tournament's entertainers in the process. Tabarez's men will have to draw upon the strength in their hearts and show it on the pitch as they seek a place in the quarterfinals.
The latest reports suggest that Tabarez will start with Diego Forlan replacing Suarez and Maximiliano Pereira taking Nicolas Lodeiro's spot in the starting XI. With that said, the team's lineup should be: Fernando Muslera; Maximiliano Pereira, Jose Maria Gimenez, Diego Godin, Martin Caceres, Alvaro Pereira; Egidio Arevalo Rios, Alvaro Gonzalez, Cristian Rodriguez; Diego Forlan and Edinson Cavani.
Tabarez will place extra protection on the flanks, so that Victor Ibarbo and Juan Cuadrado don't have any freedom to create chances for Teofilo Gutierrez. Also, it leaves Arevalo Rios and Gonzalez free to cover James Rodriguez so that Cristian Rodriguez can be a counterattack weapon. Cavani and Forlan will be lonely up front and will need to be very patient and make the most out of the few chances they'll get in front of the goal. For Uruguay, the first thing is to establish a solid defensive system and then see what they can do to break the Colombian barrier.
All these South American sides will leave absolutely everything on the pitch as they look to give joy to their respective countries. For them, to win the tournament here would mean more than triumphing in Europe, for a variety of reasons. Alas, two South American teams will take the plane back home. Unluckily for them, the journey won't be long enough to get over the heartache.