FIFA World Cup Prospectus: Colombia
By Tom Blanton
Football.com will countdown the remaining time leading up to the World Cup with a 32-day preview of each team that will be participating. For those of you who want to know each team inside and out, the 32-Day 2014 FIFA World Cup Prospectus is the World Cup preview.
Group E: Switzerland, France
Group G: United States
Nickname: Los Cafeteros
FIFA Ranking: Eight
World Cup Appearances: 1962, 1990, 1994, 1998
How Did They Qualify: Second in CONMEBOL
What Group Are They In: Group C
Opponents (Match Dates): Greece (6/14) Ivory Coast (6/19) Japan (6/24)
Projected Finish In Group C: Second
Why They Will Finish Second In Group C:
With the goal-scoring mastery of Radamel Falcao out of the picture, Colombia’s spirit may be too far broken. The nation’s World Cup squad includes a variety of talented and experienced options at every position, but the brilliance of Monaco’s star striker added to the team during its qualifying run to get to the Cup will be sorely missed.
The three other teams in Group C are compelling adversaries. Greece is the only other nation ranked in the top 20, but Ivory Coast is still a team to be reckoned with. Japan is no push over either.
If Greece continues its current form, it will likely finish on top. In that scenario, Colombia would be battling it out with Ivory Coast for the second spot, and would likely best the African squad.
Keeper: David Ospina will start in goal for Colombia, and rightfully so. The 25-year-old keeper, who plays club ball with Nice in France’s Ligue 1, is known for his quick reflexes and reactions.
With 43 international caps, the experienced net-guardian is the obvious first choice for the Colombian team. He may not be as well known as Iker Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon, but he has the crucial experience needed in a World Cup keeper.
Defense: At 38, Colombian captain Mario Yepes is nearly 10 years older than any other player starting for the South American nation this summer. Nevertheless, his 12 years of experience playing in the elite leagues of France and Italy justify his inclusion in an otherwise young squad.
Napoli duo Juan Camilo Zúñiga and Pablo Armero are veteran defenders with 50-plus international caps. Their international and club experience will compliment Yepes’ leadership.
Cristían Zapata has also proven to be a sturdy defender with Udinese and Milan in Italy, and will easily contribute his part.
What holds Colombia’s defense back a bit, however, is the players’ lack of European experience outside Serie A.
Regardless, the squad’s defenders will relentlessly fight for their country’s Cup glory. The assets are there, waiting for the right passion and momentum to hold them up against the tough attacks seen at the Cup.
Midfield: The nine midfielders named to Colombia’s squad represent top tier leagues in six different countries. With that wealth of versatile experience, the country’s coach has his options for each opponent.
Internazionale’s Fredy Guarín, Toulouse’s Abel Aguilar and Elche’s Carlos Sánchez have the most international caps on their resumes, followed by Monaco’s James Rodríguez and Fiorentina’s Juan Guillermo Cuadrado.
The starting lineup still seems to be up in the air, with multiple substitutions having taken place during Colombia’s final Cup warm-up against Jordan. Whoever wins the starting spots at midfield will have to continue to be at the top of their games throughout the Cup or they’ll risk losing their spots to the depth of talent on the roster.
Forwards: With Falcao left off the squad due to his plaguing knee injury, some of the momentum Colombia’s offense mustered during its qualification process has been lost. Fortunately, Falcao wasn’t the team – he was just the most prolific and recognizable player on the team.
The country still has a set of go-to forwards its fans can rely on to get the job done, but none with the illustrious flair of Falcao. River Plate’s Teófilo Gutiérrez and Borussia Dortmund’s Adrián Ramos have, of late, been the choice replacements for Monaco’s injured goal-scorer, but they haven’t quite put the points on the board expected of the role.
One of the potential emerging stars of the World Cup could be Jackson Martinez. The powerful Porto forward will be one of the most sought after players in this summer’s transfer market with clubs like Arsenal and Roma rumored to be lining up huge bids and what a perfect stage to showcase his talent.
The country’s options are diverse, but not world class without Falcao. His presence will be missed against the European defenses he has dismantled during his time with Porto, Atlético Madrid and Monaco.
Coaching: José Pékerman has been in charge of the country’s national team for a year and a half, and has done a decent job by most fans’ standards. Despite being Argentinian, he’s led the Colombian squad to its fifth World Cup appearance and first in nearly two decades. Not too shabby for a foreign manager with only two years of experience at the international level.
When the retired midfielder took the reigns of Colombia, he led the team to four victories in its first five matches under his leadership.
Pékerman is a tactically minded coach who causes controversy with his starting selections. His controversial methods, however, have paid off in the form of eight victories and only two losses in Colombia’s last 15 matches.
He has a difficult time committing to formations, which could pose as a problem in the Cup, but could also be a confusing blessing that doesn't allow opponents the luxury of knowing what to expect.
How can they win the World Cup:
The soccer Gods will have to be on Colombia’s side for the squad to come out of the sport’s biggest tournament victorious. The other teams in the country's group will give the players a run for their money and the competition only becomes fiercer from there. Combined, Colombia’s players have just over 50 international goals in their collective, international career. That isn’t a reassuring number when compared to, say, the 80-plus goals Argentina’s four strikers collectively boast.
Colombia’s squad of World Cup rookies will have to enter the competition with the trophy in mind. They will have to remain calm and collected if/when they take on the likes of Spain, Germany, and Brazil – the crème de la crème. It’s possible, but there are no recent Cup performances with which to evaluate the country’s poise.
What can go wrong:
With Colombia’s team made up entirely of World Cup freshmen, the pressure of the stadium lights and hundreds of millions of viewers worldwide could be too much for the players to handle. Much like Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Cup amateurs, the players will have to prove what they’re made of.
Should the pressure be too much, and the defense crumble behind a dilapidating offense, Colombia will fall fast. The team will have to garner wins in place of the draws it has ended with four of its last seven matches. If the strikers don’t make up for Falcao’s absence, everything could, and would, go wrong.
Colombia’s 2014 kit includes a yellow home jersey, complimented by white shorts with blue stripes and white socks with yellow strips near the knee. The away uniform includes a red jersey, dark blue shorts and red socks with blue at the knee. Together, the two kits embody the spirit and colors of the country’s flag, and will evoke the expected patriotism of the tournament.
What's there to like about Colombia:
Colombia is a diverse country with rich geography. The country borders both the Caribbean and Pacific Ocean, offering visitors a taste of paradise. In addition, its Amazon region showcases the beauty of the world’s largest and most diverse tropical rainforest, while its Andean region provides a glimpse into what lies beyond the country’s southern border. The country also includes the Colombian coffee-growing axis, a region famous for growing and producing some of the world’s best coffee.