Beaten Uruguay have no time to sulk
In the context of a league campaign, a resounding win or a heavy defeat never ends at the final whistle. More important than the points won or lost can be the team's reaction. Can it rally in the face of adversity, or guard against excessive euphoria?
This is especially true in South America's marathon 2014 Fifa World Cup qualifiers, when two rounds are played together, and a team can play at one end of the continent on Friday and the other the following Tuesday.
Last week I picked out the match between Colombia and Uruguay as the most interesting tie of the seventh round, a clash right at the heart of the battle to qualify in recent campaigns. I also suggested there were signs that, after a two-year run of success, Uruguay might be on the downward slope.
It is too early to tell whether that supposition was correct - even though Uruguay were thrashed 4-0. One defeat, however comprehensive, does not necessarily mean a decline and things were always likely to be difficult in the scorching afternoon heat of Barranquilla. The proof will come in the way Uruguay react.
Atletico Madrid's Radamel Falcao was Colombia's match winner. Photo: Reuters
They have now dropped to fourth in the table, the last of the automatic qualifying slots - and could find themselves dropping further. Next month they are away to both Argentina and Bolivia - two of the most difficult games of the campaign.
Suddenly, then, the pressure is on. Anything less than a win at home to Ecuador on Tuesday will be a big disappointment, and potentially a significant one.
It will be a test too for Ecuador, who climbed above Uruguay with Friday's 1-0 win over Bolivia. The Ecuadorians have a 100% record at home but have lost all their away games, and need to start picking up points on their travels. In truth, they were not at all convincing against Bolivia, and only won with the aid of a highly questionable penalty.
But then they were up against opponents who had come to defend - Tuesday will be different. With Luis Antonio Valencia imperious on one flank and the silkily talented Jefferson Montero on the other, Ecuador possess real threat on the counter-attack, and with Uruguay obliged to push forward they should have the opportunity to use it.
More important, though, is whether their suspect defence can stand up to a Uruguay attack which, with Luis Suarez back from suspension, will come at them like a wounded beast.
It could be, though, that more significant than anything that happens to Uruguay will be Colombia's reaction to Friday's result. The 4-0 win came 19 years almost to the day after perhaps the greatest moment in Colombia's footballing history - the 5-0 win away to Argentina in the 1994 qualifiers. And the manner in which Uruguay were taken apart has delighted the traditionalists who remember that day with affection.
Conductor of the Colombian orchestra back in 1993, imposing a hypnotic salsa rhythm, was frizzy-haired playmaker Carlos Valderrama. Once he had retired Colombia tried hard to replace him, and then after a few years they gave up.
Before his team met Colombia in the quarter-finals of last year's Copa America, Peru coach Sergio Markarian gave an assessment of his opponents. Colombia, he said, were physically and technically impressive but lacked a touch of fantasy in the final third of the field.
His words came as a surprise to some - he was talking of a team that contained Radamel Falcao Garcia, one of the world's most lethal strikers. But Markarian was spot on. His men held Colombia with few problems and won the game in extra time.
This was a Colombia with a workmanlike, solid midfield but no playmaker. Then-coach Hernan Dario Gomez, once such a fan of Valderrama, had declared himself cured of the need to pick a midfield where three must run so one can play. His change in thinking was both a reaction to and an explanation for the decline of the old-fashioned South American number 10, squeezed out of the game by the presence in the opposing ranks of two midfield markers.
Colombia's success against Uruguay on Friday comes as the result of finding a solution to this problem, for one game at least. The recall of Macnelly Torres gave Colombia, now under former Argentina boss Jose Pekerman, an old-style playmaker for the first time in the campaign.
But the burden of setting up the play was not placed entirely on his shoulders. He had a partner in the wonderfully versatile and mature talent of James Rodriguez.
Uruguay started with three centre-backs and Rodriguez spent the first half attacking the space behind the opposing right wing-back. After the break, when Uruguay had switched to a 4-4-2, he drifted infield, getting closer to Torres. Always Colombia had options. With the ball circulating well, Uruguay's defensive midfielders were chasing shadows, while Colombia's strikers and attacking full-backs had a supply line.
It was an excellent performance - but Colombia need no reminding that one big win does not make a successful campaign. In the 2006 qualifiers they beat Uruguay 5-0 but only managed one win in their next six games. Uruguay finished a point above them and snatched the play-off slot.
The question, then, is whether Colombia can maintain their momentum. On Friday, they scored with their first attack and enjoyed themselves against opponents who wilted in the sun. These conditions will not apply on Tuesday when they travel to face Chile in Santiago. This is a match that could call for more defensive precautions such as the dropping of a striker - no easy choice after Falcao Garcia and Teo Gutierrez were both on target against Uruguay.
But Friday has gone. Tuesday's history has still to be written. There is nothing to be gained from basking in euphoria - while Uruguay will not profit from wallowing in despair.
Comments on the piece in the space below. Send questions on South American football to email@example.com, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.
From last week's postbag:
Q) I am surprised to see Chile doing so well in the World Cup qualifiers [they are currently in second place]. I know they have some quality players such as Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal but I wouldn't have thought they had enough quality to make the top four or five even. What's the reason for the success in your opinion? Do they have more quality than I realise? Is it down to great management?
A) There are two key factors: one is the idea of play. Chilean football historically has struggled for an identity. The time that Marcelo Bielsa spent as national team coach was important in this respect - he got them believing in themselves, full of confidence to attack and with a bold front three that got full value from the quick, little wide players that Chilean football produces.
His ideas have filtered through to the domestic game - where there have also been important financial changes. The contemporary business model of football is no panacea, but it is better than the amateur-hour practices that were prevalent in the Chilean game. Better off the field, better on it, the Chilean championship is increasingly interesting. Universidad de Chile, who have won the last three domestic titles, have become one of the giants of South American club football.
The current national team under Claudio Borghi are usually fun to watch - they score plenty but their defensive weaknesses mean nothing can be taken for granted. It should make for a fascinating game against Colombia.