“Everybody keep their heads held high, eh? Everybody!” boomed Diego Lugano, his deep voice reverberating around the corridors of the Estadio do Maracana and reaching the 22 other Uruguayan players on their way to their dressing room after the final whistle.
Their 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ campaign may have just been ended by Colombia at the Round of 16 stage, but squad captain Lugano, despite losing his starting berth and ceding the armband to Diego Godin, remains La Celeste’s leader and what he says goes.
“Of course we should be proud,” said Alvaro Pereira, now changed and ready to face the hundreds of journalists assembled in the mixed zone, in conversation with FIFA.
“That’s a given, because there isn’t a player in this squad that wouldn’t give his life for the shirt. That’s the message we have to send to those coming through,” added the 28-year-old, a starter in three of Los Charrúas’ four games in Brazil.
“We’re clearly sad to have been knocked out. Losing hurts,” said Edinson Cavani, on the field for every minute of Uruguay’s campaign and with one goal to his name. “Even so, we can still be proud and safe in the knowledge we gave it our best shot.
"It shouldn’t be forgotten that during the tough times that followed the [opening] defeat to Costa Rica, the team proved there was life in it yet. We rose to the challenge.”
What is more, neither player attempted to seek out excuses for the defeat to Los Cafeteros, unbeaten since Uruguay downed them in World Cup qualifying back in September 2013. The two players also agreed that James Rodriguez’s stunning opener was the point in which the match began to slip away from La Celeste.
“It’s true it’s not been an easy week, but we’re not looking for excuses: they deserved to win,” said Pereira, who picked up his 60th senior cap in the match in Rio de Janeiro. “We knew that Colombia are great on the ball, which is why we tried to press them high.
"We were doing it well until that wonder goal came, which changed everything. After the break we went out looking for the equaliser but then they scored a second, which hit us hard.”
Cavani, scorer of his side’s first in that 2-0 win last September in Montevideo, was also keen to sing the praises of Jose Pekerman’s charges, whose victory earned them a quarter-final versus hosts Brazil.
“We knew that Colombia were a great side and today they proved it. They’re not through to the last eight by chance,” said the 27-year-old striker. “While it’s true that we were doing a good job and had them under control, the first goal changed things. They handled being in front very well.”
What next for Uruguay?Key figures during Oscar Tabarez’s hugely successful spell at the helm, which has included fourth place at South Africa 2010 and triumph at the Copa America 2011, Pereira and Cavani are both well-placed to give their verdict on the future of this Uruguay squad.
For Pereira, though, now is not the time to look ahead: “I can’t go talking about the future, because in the present our World Cup is now over. It’s all too fresh. There will be decisions to be made, but all in good time.”
Cavani, for his part, was able to dig deep and sign off with an optimistic view of the future. “This group of players have been working together for many years and have achieved wonderful and important things,” said the Paris Saint-Germain star.
“It’ll now depend on the coach, the FA and on any changes that might be made. It’s a fact that there are solid foundations, made up not only of great players but also great people. When you’ve got that, it’s easier to keep building."