Colombia Preview – Does No Falcao Mean No Chance?
World Cup 2014
Can a Falcao-less Colombian side go further than their famous USA ’94 countrymen?
For the last twelve months, Colombia has been a permanent fixture in the top five of the FIFA rankings, periodically ranking as South America’s best.
Jose Pekerman’s team aren’t quite all that, but they have been consistent in a wholly un-Colombian way, suffering one defeat in all competitions since last June.
And after securing World Cup qualification, they caught Europe’s attention last November by beating Belgium and drawing in Amsterdam, although a petulant, violent stalemate with Tunisia in March took a little sheen off their recent record.
Previous coach Leonel Alvarez was dumped in favour of Argentinian Pekerman after three qualifying games, with the team lying sixth in the CONMEBOL table.
Pekerman’s new ideas were slow to percolate, and his first two matches, against Peru and Ecuador, were a bit of a grind, but Los Cafeteros were buzzing by game three, smashing four past Uruguay. A hat-trick of wins bumped them up to second and there they remained, securing a World Cup spot in their penultimate game with a rousing comeback against Chile.
With one careless kick in a French Cup tie, non-league centre-half Soner Ertek wrecked Radamel Falcao’s cruciate ligament and Colombia’s World Cup chances.
Falcao underwent surgery in January and is part of the training squad in Argentina, but has hardly kicked a ball in five months and it seems likely that Pekerman will have to do without the most important cog in his attacking machine.
In his absence, Jackson Martinez or Teofilo Gutierrez will have to take on the Falcao role. They will be supported by a number of talented midfielders, most notably wide-players Juan Cuadrado and James Rodriguez.
On paper, Colombia’s opening game against Greece is the Group C decider, but I think the key fixture will be their second. Greece will sit back stubbornly, without threatening a shaky Colombian defence, whereas the Ivory Coast press the ball ferociously and are both swift and strong in attack. With an easy tie against Japan to finish off, victory over the Ivory Coast should be enough to dominate the group.
Even without Falcao, the potency of their inventive forwards, and their refreshingly adventurous game-plan – complete with rampaging full-backs – will make Colombia fun to watch and could earn them a healthy goal difference in Group C.
But their style of play often leaves them exposed in defence, a weakness compounded by veteran centre half Mario Yepes’ lack of speed.
Then there’s the draw. Colombia’s punishment for being blessed with an easy group will be a second-round match-up with Italy, Uruguay or England and the prospect of a meeting with Brazil or Spain in the quarter-finals.
I can’t see Colombia going far in the competition, but they are in an eminently winnable section so back them at 4/5 in the World Cup Group C Winners market.