It was a game of two men - one brilliant, one not even at the Maracana.
Before Colombia’s 2-0 victory over Uruguay in the last 16 of the World Cup, I spoke to Uruguay supporters about the disgraced Luis Suarez, and how his absence would affect their chances of reaching the quarter-finals.
Some blamed Suarez for his latest indiscretion – which was biting Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini – and some claimed it was a conspiracy between FIFA and their best friends in the British media (no, the irony was not lost on me).
Most agreed that he should have been banned for at least this match, and that his absence would reduce their chances of beating a Colombia team also missing their best player, the injured Radamel Falcao.
We all saw Rodriguez’s impact on this match – one stunning goal, and another well-taken finish, as individual brilliance and a joyous attacking team strategy was, at times, overwhelming for Uruguay.
And it wasn’t just Monaco’s Rodriguez and Porto’s Martinez who impressed –Fiorentina winger Juan Cuadrado played a blinder, while goalkeeper David Ospina’s name was repeatedly chanted by a crowd mostly in favour of Colombia, the free agent making some remarkable saves and surely destined for a bigger club than Nice, for whom he declined to re-sign this summer. Smart move, Dave.
Uruguay's fans were in the minority at the Maracana, but they were in defiant spirit.
At times their small corner out-sung the Colombians, although their demographic was slightly less mixed, more male, fewer families.
But for Uruguay it was all about one man not on the pitch, or even in the country.
Suarez’s nine-match and fourth month ban resulted in him returning home – he’s not even allowed in the training ground, let alone the stadium – and even his most ardent supporters were in no doubt as to why their side lost.
“The absence of Suarez was key from the start,” Rodrigo, from Montevideo told me immediately after his side went out.
“We were on the back foot, defending, and we didn’t have a real outlet, not a dangerous one anyway.
Rodrigo, right, seemed in good spirits despite Uruguay's exit
“And then they scored an amazing long-range ‘golazo’, and from then we were chasing the match.
“Colombia are a really good team – maybe not the best at the World Cup but a really high technical and physical level – and in the second half it got harder and harder for us. We gave it a good go, but we couldn’t do it.
“With Suarez, it may have been different.”
Felipe, one of the few Brazilians in the stadium not rooting for Colombia, explained why he was wearing the sky blue shirt.
“My grandparents are from Uruguay, so actually that’s who I support,” he admitted.
“Maybe I’m not as sad as the others, but without Suarez we were always going to struggle.
“Listen, I think the four-month ban was far too harsh, but he should have been banned for one or two matches, so we can’t blame FIFA or the English for losing this match.
“Colombia were in control from the start, they played really well and scored a great goal. And without Suarez we only have Cavani and that’s not enough.”
Others did not take defeat so well, with one middle-aged man being pulled away by security after getting in a fight with Colombia fans who he believed were over celebrating.
His face was bloodied but he wanted more. And there were some ugly scenes during the match as some Uruguay supporters – many of whom defied FIFA’s order to leave the Suarez masks and banners at home – were led from their seats after trying to attack opposition fans.
But it was largely good-tempered afterwards, with most supporters mingling and posing for photos. After all, for most this is as much a holiday as it is a football tournament, and there is no point in getting involved in any bother when you can lounge on the Copacabana all Sunday.
Back to Colombia, though. They have been one of the most entertaining teams at this tournament, and are very popular with the locals, who find a kinship with Colombia that does not exist with neighbours Argentina and Uruguay.
That kinship will have to be put to one side though as next up for Jose Pekerman’s side are, of course, Brazil.
Mouth-watering, we’d all agree. But given the strength of Colombian support in Brazil at these finals, don’t expect it to be as friendly as these past few weeks.
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- Luis Suarez