Dubai: A lot will be made of Monaco striker Radamel Falcao’s match fitness after he injured his knee in January and spent the rest of the French Ligue 1 season sidelined.
The truth is, however, Colombia have the strength in depth to cope with his absence should coach Jose Pekerman leave him out of his starting 11.
Ramachandra Babu/Gulf News
Playing with an interchangeable 4-2-2-2/4-2-3-1 formation, Los Cafeteros [The Coffee Growers] could deploy Jackson Martinez alone up front for height, or Luis Muriel for speed.
Behind that frontline, Colombia’s true creative engine room is James Rodriguez, who, along with Teofilo Gutierrez and Fredy Guarin, provides the quick-passing spark to the team’s feared attacking bursts.
Long balls from the back also unleash a dangerous unpredictability about Colombia, who have quick and physical players that can change tempo and technique with devastating affect.
But, while their attack seems sorted, it’s their defence that poses the problem. Even though Colombia conceded a record low of 13 goals in qualifying, there are concerns for the ageing central partnership of Mario Yepes and Luis Perea, while backups Eder Balanta and Cristian Zapata are considered too inexperienced. If they face a team as competent as themselves in attack, it could well be game over.
Nevertheless, with Colombia ranked a surprising fifth in the world after finishing second in their World Cup qualifying group behind Argentina, there is a real sense of excitement about this squad.
In four previous World Cup appearances, their best finish was the round of 16 in 1990, but, faced with a relatively straightforward group against Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan, you would expect them to at least match that record this year.
They will be favourites to top their group and will be confident against whoever finishes second in Group D (likely to be Uruguay, Italy or England), but it’s in the quarter-finals where they could face hosts Brazil that their chances start to unravel.
Fifa ranking: 5
Best 11 (4-2-3-1)
David Ospina, Mario Yepes, Cristian Zapata, Pablo Armero, Carlos Sanchez, Abel Aguilar, Victor Ibarbo, Juan Cuadrado, James Rodriguez, Teofilo Gutierrez, Jackson Martinez.
Goalkeepers: David Ospina (Nice), Faryd Mondragon (Deportivo Cali), Camilo Vargas (Independiente Santa Fe)
Defenders: Mario Yepes (Atalanta), Cristian Zapata (AC Milan), Pablo Armero (West Ham United), Camilo Zuniga (Napoli), Santiago Arias (PSV Eindhoven), Eder Alvarez Balanta (River Plate), Carlos Valdes (San Lorenzo)
Midfielders: Fredy Guarin (Inter Milan), Juan Cuadrado (Fiorentina), Victor Ibarbo (Cagliari), James Rodriguez (Monaco), Abel Aguilar (Toulouse), Juan Quintero (Porto), Carlos Sanchez (Elche), Aldo Leao Ramirez (Morelia), Alexander Mejia (Atletico Nacional)
Forwards: Jackson Martinez (Porto), Carlos Bacca (Sevilla), Teofilo Gutierrez (River Plate), Adrian Ramos (Hertha Berlin)
Conmebol round robin runners-up with 30 points — two short of leaders Argentina — after nine wins, three draws and four losses from 16 games.
World Cup history
First tournament: 1962 (Chile)
Appearances (before 2014): 4
Best finish: Round of 16 (1990)
- Pekerman is an experienced coach who won three Fifa Under-20 World Cups in six years with Argentina, bringing through the likes of Pablo Aimar, Juan Sorin and Juan Riquelme.
- Rarely has there been this much enthusiasm about the team, with legend Carlos Valderrama saying Pekerman has given the country its identity back.
- Colombia held the best defensive record in the Conmebol 2014 World Cup qualifying group, conceding just 13 goals in 16 games.
- Striker Radamal Falcao suffered a knee injury in January and was out for the rest of the season. He’s in the squad but will he be 100 per cent fit?
- Despite a solid qualifying record, the ageing defensive partnership of Mario Yepes, 38, and Luis Perea, 35, is considered a potential liability.
- The pressure of playing for Colombia can’t be underestimated, with Andres Escobar tragically shot dead after the 1994 World Cup for scoring a decisive own goal.