World Cup Preview – Colombia (31/32)
CONMEBOL (South America)
Best WC Performance: Quarter-Finals – 2014
Current World Ranking: 16
The current crop of Colombian players is widely considered to be a golden generation, amongst a country with a disappointing historical record at the World Cup.
James Rodriguez and Falcao are generally treated as two of the best players in Colombia’s history, and the former’s six goals fired La Tricolor to the quarter finals in Brazil four years ago.
Prior to Brazil, they had only qualified for four tournaments; 1962 and each World Cup in the 1990, reaching the knockout stage only once in 1990.
Their record in the Copa America is better, having recorded five top three finishes since the tournament’s inception in 1975, winning it in 2001.
In an open Group H, expectations will be high that Colombia can again achieve a best ever finish at the World Cup, and perhaps go all the way.
Goalkeepers: David Ospina (Arsenal), Camilo Vargas (Deportivo Cali), Jose Fernando Cuadrado (Once Caldas).
Defenders: Cristian Zapata (Milan), Davinson Sanchez (Tottenham), Santiago Arias (PSV Eindhoven), Oscar Murillo (Pachuca), Frank Fabra (Boca Juniors), Johan Mojica (Girona), Yerry Mina (Barcelona).
Midfielders: Wílmar Barrios (Boca Juniors), Carlos Sanchez (Espanyol), Jefferson Lerma (Levante), Jose Izquierdo (Brighton), James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich), Abel Aguilar (Deportivo Cali), Mateus Uribe (America), Juan Fernando Quintero (River Plate), Juan Cuadrado (Juventus).
Forwards: Radamel Falcao (Monaco), Miguel Borja (Palmeiras), Carlos Bacca (Villarreal), Luis Fernando Muriel (Sevilla).
- Vs Japan 13:00, 19.06.18 Mordovia Arena, Saransk
- Vs Poland 19:00, 24.06.18 Kazan Arena, Kazan
- Vs Senegal 15:00, 28.06.18 Samara Arena, Samara
Manager – Jose Pekerman
Veteran manager Jose Pekerman leads Colombia to their second successive world Cup, having been in charge of La Tricolor since 2012.
Pekerman played as a midfielder for a club in each of Aregtina and Colombia during the 1970s, and built a strong managerial reputation through roles in youth setups, including the Argentina under 20s.
The Argentine led his home country into the 2006 World Cup; where they crashed out to hosts Germany on penalties in the quarter-finals, and enjoyed spells at two Mexican clubs before landing the Colombian job six years ago.
Colombia earnt qualification as a result of finishing in the fourth and final automatic qualification spot in South American qualifying.
It was never convincing however, with five losses and no unbeaten run longer than four games. In fact, they approached the 18th and final fixture in genuine danger of missing out.
La Tricolor travelled to Peru, knowing a loss and a win for either Chile or Paraguay would send them out, while a different combination of those results could send them into the play-offs.
In the end, they scraped a 1-1 draw to avoid immediate elimination, and neither Chile or Paraguay could avoid defeat, resulting in Colombia qualifying in fourth place.
Captain – Radamel Falcao
After cruelly missing out four years ago through injury, Radamel Falcao will play at his first World Cup this summer as captain of Colombia.
Considered amongst the finest strikers in the world in his prime, Falcao scored goals for fun at River Plate, Porto, Atletico Madrid and Monaco, before two ill-fated spells in England with Manchester United and Chelsea.
Now back at Monaco, 18 league goals in 2017/18 highlights the threat he continues to provide. Incredible in the air at only 5ft 10, expect to see him fly to meet crosses with a bullet header this summer.
Danger man – James Rodriguez
Four years ago, a 22-year-old James Rodriguez set Brazil alight with six goals en route to Colombia’s eventual quarter-final exit. The golden boot duly followed, along with a £63 million transfer to Real Madrid.
Rodriguez struggled to make the same impact in the Spanish capital, and is currently in the middle of a two-year loan to Bayern Munich.
Despite playing in midfield, James averages better a goal every three games, and will be at the centre of every Colombia attack this summer.
Young Player – Davinson Sanchez
Premier League fans will likely need little introduction to centre half Davinson Sanchez. Having joined Tottenham Hotspur in a big money deal last summer, Sanchez played 31 Premier League games this season in the absence of injured Toby Alderweireld.
Having made his international debut in 2016, Sanchez will be hopeful of a starting berth for Colombia this summer, likely alongside fellow youngster Yerry Mina of Barcelona.
Not afraid of a big tackle, don’t be surprised to see Davinson Sanchez enter the referee’s book in Russia.
Joining Sanchez from the Premier League are Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina and Jose Izquierdo of Brighton and Hove Albion.
Though short of game time this season, Ospina enters his second World Cup firmly established as Colombia’s number one. Meanwhile, Izquierdo will likely play a fringe role behind the likes of Juan Cuadrado and Juan Quintero in La Tricolor’s attacking midfield setup.
Cuadrado and Falcao are the only other members of Colombia’s squad with club history in England, both playing for Chelsea while Falcao also endured a spell in the red half of Manchester.
Colombia are considered favourites to progress on paper, but football is not played on paper. With no standout teams in Group H, La Tricolor must approach each game with caution.
To open the tournament with a win is a must if they are to top the group, and few expect Japan to provide much stiffer opposition than they did in the group stage four years ago (4-1 Colombia).
It seems likely that Group H will be won and lost in Colombia’s second group clash, against Poland. Both sides have players of the highest quality, and Falcao’s duel with fellow Monaco player Kamil Glik looks set to be a battle for the ages.
If the yellows are to progress from Group H, they could face England in the second round, where of course they will be blown away as Gareth and the boys storm towards the title.