As Uruguay is about to find out, life moves on. The brave 22 will now have to carry on without their best warrior against Colombia today at 4:00 PM. Is there any way Uruguay can survive their round of 16 match up? Sure. Why not? Rather than do a full squad breakdown and analyizing odds and what not (you can get all that here), I decided to take a different approach. Here are the most memorable infamies in the storied World Cup history of each squad. OK, Uruguay’s storied history, and Colombia’s children’s book (it’s really short, really nice pictures though).
Colombia ’94: The Own Goal that Changed Colombian Fútbol
Colombia went into the 1994 World Cup as Pelé’s choice to win the whole thing. They had dominated the qualifying, winning four games and tying two more, to lead the qualifying group in points with 10. They famously crushed Argentina 5-0 in the last qualifying game to cement first place and headed into the World Cup finals with all the momentum in the world. This was an extremely talented team, but they were under quite a bit of pressure to bring home a winner. As Colombia arived in the U.S., rumors were flying that betting syndicates and drug cartels had their hooks in some of the team members, and Coach Francisco Maturana reportedly received death threats regarding his squad selection.
Maybe unsettled by all the tumult, the Colombians dropped a shocker to Romania, 3-1 in the opener, which brought on the USA in what was, essentially, a must win for Maturana’s boys. It all fell apart in the 35th minute. USMNT midfielder John Harks crossed the ball to Earnie Stewart across the mouth of the small box. Andrés Escobar, one of Colombia’s best defenders, and a true superstar of Colombian fútbol, slid to deflect the cross and disrupt the USA’s goal chance. Unfortunately, Escobar deflected the shot directly into his own net, and the U.S. led 1-0. That own goal would mark the beginning of a depression era for Colombian Fútbol. The U.S. eventually won 2-1 and, although Colombia won the next game, they were sent home after the group stage.
That’s when the real tragedy began. Just five days after returning to Colombia, after spending the night out at a club in Medellín, Escobar went to the parking lot to fetch his car. There, he was accosted by three men. As they taunted him for his mishap, he argued that the own goal had been a mistake. Unfortunately, these hecklers were low-level cartel members. Two of the men took out handguns and shot him to death. It is alleged that one of the men shouted “gol!” as he was shooting Escobar. Eventually, the bodyguard for the two men plead guilty and was sentenced to 43 years in prison, of which he served 11 before getting out on good behavior… must be nice.
The tragic death of Andrés Escobar didn’t just affect him and his family. According to the ESPN 30 for 30 film The Two Escobars, many of the “golden generation” of colombian fútbol players, including greats like Carlos Valderama and Luis Fernando Herrera and stopped playing–afraid for their own safeties and frustrated by a sport heavily influenced by betting and drug cartels. That dark period lasted until only fairly recently, and Colombia is actually appearing in its first World Cup since that one. Is that golden magic back for good?
Uruguay ’10 and ’14: Chewy Luis
OK so this is kind of a copout, but there haven’t been all that many controversial moments in Uruguayan World Cup history. The only two things I can even think of both involve Luis Suárez. First, there’s the handball save against Ghana in 2010–a play that I personally find nothing wrong with. We all remember the first time Suárez was made an international villain. After a sweet phantom foul call just outside the box and an uncalled off-sides, Ghana had their ticket to the semifinals basically punched for them by the on-field official. All they had to do was kick, or head the ball into a wide open net. The first try bounced off of Suarez’s legs. The second shot, a header by Dominic Adiyiah, was infamously slapped away by Suárez, who instantly became a villain to everyone who knows nothing about fútbol or has never played a competitive sport.
The second Súarez moment, of course, is the biting incident from a few days ago, which we have covered pretty extensively on the blog. Assuming his appeal doesn’t somehow get him back on the field, that bite has cost Suárez the rest of this tournament, and much more. Oh well, at least all of our problems come from one guy, and the system is otherwise good… right?
Alright, I guess I have to actually choose who I think will win. On paper, Uruguay is doomed. Edinson Cavani has never played well on the World Cup stage, and Diego Forlán is old and rickety (we still love you, Diego). Uruguay also lacks creativity in the middle, so getting the ball to whoever replaces Súarez is going to be a problem in and of itself. Uruguay does have a very tough defense, as well as an immeasurable grit, though. That backs against the wall mentality usually helps to spark this team during dark times, so I guess you never know.
Colombia, meanwhile, play solid defense and have one of the most powerful offenses in this tournament. Juan Cuadrado and James Rodríguez (pictured at the top of the post) have emerged as leaders on the pitch, and they should make the All-Tournament team when the time comes. Cuadrado’s speed and Rodríguez’s finishing ability will make for a matchup nightmare for the Uruguayans.
On paper, Colombia wins this match hands down. In the land of Homer, where I live, I think Uruguay wins it in penalty kicks, after a 1-1 tie.
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