No mention of Suarez by Colombia’s Pekerman

RIO DE JANEIRO — Colombia coach Jose Pekerman avoided questions about Luis Suarez, ducked any assessment of the striker’s punishment and didn’t mention his name ahead of today’s World Cup second-round match against Uruguay.

Pekerman, an Argentine who coached Argentina at the 2006 World Cup, repeated several times Friday that Uruguay is a “top-notch opponent” — steering the focus away from Suarez and the Uruguayan forward’s lengthy ban from football.

“Listen, at this time this is a very delicate issue,” Pekerman responded when asked about Suarez. “But our concern is Uruguay as a team and we are working in order to play against them (today). That’s all there is to say.”

Suarez was banned Thursday from all football activities for four months, suspended from Uruguay’s next nine internationals and fined for biting Giorgio Chiellini in a 1-0 victory against Italy which sealed the South Americans’ place in the last 16.

Essentially, Pekerman said his team has had its own problems. It is missing four injured players — led by striker Radamel Falcao — who should have been in the 23-man World Cup squad. The other three are midfielders Aldo Ramirez, Edwin Valencia and defender Amaranto Perea.

“Uruguay is a very experienced team with a lot of ability and a wonderful coach,” Pekerman said. “It was going to be a difficult opponent in any case. Really, I am very busy with Colombia dealing with all the problems we have had with injuries.”

Colombia is suddenly among the favorites at the tournament, and officials back home are imposing bans on alcohol and curfews for minors in many major cities to discourage chaos and vandalism spinning off from the match.

A key player is forward James (pronounced HA-maze) Rodriguez, who has three goals and two assists and was among the top players in the first half of the event.

“This makes us happy and motivates us,” said goalkeeper David Ospina, whose sister Daniela is married to Rodriguez. “But this also has to do with the fact we all play as a team.”

Uruguay does have players who can step up in the absence of Suarez — notably Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan.

Cavani scored Uruguay’s goal in the 3-1 loss to Costa Rica, but has been quiet in the subsequent two games. Forlan was named the best player of the 2010 World Cup, but hasn’t shown any of that form when he’s been on the pitch in Brazil so far.

Defender Diego Godin has maintained his good form, however, heading in the winner against Italy just minutes after the Suarez biting incident. Godin also scored a vital goal against Barcelona that gave Atletico Madrid the Spanish league title last month, and netted his team’s goal in the Champions League final loss to Real Madrid.

Many of Uruguay’s players have been here before, too. The team reached the semifinals at the 2010 World Cup, while Colombia hadn’t even qualified for the tournament since 1998.

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