On Saturday 28 June, Uruguay return to Rio de Janeiro’s legendary stadium, the Maracana, the scene of their greatest triumph, a 2-1 win over Brazil in the final game of the 1950 FIFA World Cup™. This time, La Celeste face another team in a yellow shirt, Colombia, for a place in the 2014 quarter-finals.
The road has been rocky and arduous at Brazil 2014 for the team coached by Oscar Washington Tabarez, but Uruguay traditionally thrive in adversity and the two-time FIFA World Cup winners dug deep to seal a meeting with destiny in a match charged with historical significance.
“It will undoubtedly be a unique occasion," striker Cristhian Stuani told FIFA. "It is a stadium with so much history, and what with everything our shirt represents there. It will be very special to have the opportunity to play there, because getting this far was extremely difficult.
“We will enjoy it to the full and compete to the very end, just as we have done up until today, even though we know we’re up against a very tough rival. Our hopes and expectations are still alive, and we’ll do all we can to win this match.”
We've already played two finals, and now even more difficult matches lie ahead. We got here with lots of sacrifice and pride.
A glance at the stats would suggest Uruguay have the edge, having won 18 of 38 meetings and drawn 11 against Colombia. But Stuani gave credit to Jose Pekerman’s side and insisted Uruguay are taking nothing for granted. “Statistics are just numbers. The game has to be played. World Cups are very complicated tournaments and matches are settled by small details,” said the 27-year-old.
The last blow
Stuani struck the last goal scored by Uruguay against Colombia, the second in a 2-0 FIFA World Cup qualifying win in Montevideo back in September 2013. That was also the last time Colombia lost, having gone on a ten-game unbeaten streak since.
“We will need to be fully focused. We know Colombia are playing really well, but we are confident in our own abilities. It will be a fiercely disputed game right until the final whistle,” said the Espanyol forward.
Few teams are more adept in such circumstances. Since their opening defeat by Costa Rica, Uruguay have had their backs to the wall, but battled to wins over England and Italy to secure their spot in the Round of 16.
“To have beaten two world champions in the same group, having lost the first game, I think it was the team’s spirit which made us qualify," said Stuani. “That’s where we deserve credit. We've already played two finals, and now even more difficult matches lie ahead. We got here with lots of sacrifice and pride.”
Uruguay will look to call on those traditional strengths on Saturday. However, La Celeste will be playing with wounded pride and damaged morale due to the absence of one of their key players: Luis Suarez. “The team are with him. He is a great player and a great person,” said Stuani.
So once again, gutsy Uruguay will be fighting against adversity, just as they did 64 years ago in a stadium packed full of Brazilians. This time, though, the scenario is different, with the massive presence of both Colombians and Uruguayans in Rio meaning the support will be split more evenly.
“Uruguay’s presence is felt everywhere. It’s very emotional to feel the warmth of the people who have come to support us,” said Stuani. On Saturday, he will hope to return the favour for the warmth and affection of those fans with another memorable night at the Maracana.