The feel-good story of the 2014 World Cup, Colombia go to Russia’s World Cup with a chip on their shoulder. The rejuvenated, youthful side, with some familiar faces, will hope to go further than the quarter-final in this year’s tournament what is set to be an exciting tale.
Los Cafeteros: Colombia World Cup 2018 Preview
The One to Eleven
During qualification, Colombia secured 4th place in CONMEBOL, in which awarded them automatic qualification for the tournament. However, it wasn’t the fast attacking football that brought them plaudits in 2014, it was, in fact, a sturdy back line that led to the qualification. The Columbians had the third best defensive record in qualification, which was fuelled by a combination of youth and experience. The youth, in the form of Yerry Mina, who signed for Barcelona earlier this year and Spurs’ Davinson Sanchez, and the experience was prominent through Cristián Zapata. The mix this ultimately gave Colombia an extra element in their back four, it is now whether Mina and Sanchez can apply this combination on the greatest stage, this summer in Russia.
Moving up the pitch, an area where Los Cafeteros struggled throughout qualification, creating and taking chances. In 2014, Colombia was one of the most exciting, free-flowing outfits in the tournament, however, they only mustered 21 goals in 18 games during the qualification period, less than Ecuador and Chile who did not reach the tournament. The man largely responsible for the goals Colombia scored was James Rodriguez, the top scorer and major story of the 2014 World Cup. Rodriguez contributed to 10 goals, almost half of Colombia’s goals throughout qualification (6 goals, 4 assists). Rodriguez clearly the major talisman once again for Colombia will need the obvious quality around him to step up, Colombian all-time top goalscorer Radamel Falcao is beginning to find his form again at club level with 30 goals in all competitions last season, however, whether he can transfer this to international football is the question on many Colombians lips. His goal scoring prowess cannot be questioned, however, his ability to step up on the big stage can be, as highlighted by his poor seasons in the Premier League with Manchester United and Chelsea respectively.
José Pékerman is preparing for his second World Cup tournament as the Colombian manager, although not the most iconic manager in the world, he has always been one throughout his career as a manager to get results, with only losing 50 games of his 246 game managerial career and a 56% win rate. The legacy he has left is felt in Colombia, a recognized Colombian (born Argentinian) by President Juan Manuel Santos following the performances in 2014, show the respect and adoration he has in the nation. If he can begin to spin results in major games in his side’s favour after tough draws in World Cups (2006- Germany, as Argentina manager, 2014- Brazil, as Colombia manager) his legacy will be enforced as one of the greatest managers of the Colombian national team.
Style of play
It is clear to see the potential this side has, with glimpses shown in pre-tournament friendlies against one of the favourites France. The side played a 4-2-3-1, with Rodriguez, in a free role to roam in the 3 which offered great support to Uribe and Muriel on the flanks and to Falcao up front and this being the success story of the match. Defensively, where recently the Colombians had performed at a very high standard left much to be desired, goalkeeper David Ospina had a night to forget with his error that leads to Giroud opening the scoring, central defenders Mina and Sanchez seemed to recover from their poor start early on, but the leadership of Zapata at the back was clearly a miss. The side is set up with balance with holding midfielders in the two to deny any creativity to the opposing midfielders and allow the talisman Rodriguez the space to turn the game on its head, like he has shown he can on many occasions.
To go to the Stade De France and return with a victory is impressive every means, and more so when you do it from being 2-0 down in 26 minutes. Goals from Luis Muriel, Falcao and Juan Quintero inspired Colombia to a spectacular victory, in something that on the surface looks just like a friendly victory, but it ultimately highlights that there are goals in this side.
As recent performances have highlighted, this is a side with great balance, being managed by a man who knows how to succeed in an international tournament. I think replicating 2014 in reaching a quarter final is a realistic aim for the Colombia. I think it will be close but they will top their group with the nearest competition being Poland, and then advance on to the same stage as 2014 playing with the same pride that won over the hearts of football fans across world in Brazil.
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