Colombia's chance to build on 2014 World Cup heroics
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Going into the last World Cup, Colombia coach Jose Pekerman announced that Brazil 2014 would be the moment that his national team took a definitive place at football's top table.
Phase one is complete. Colombia reached the quarterfinals for the first time and supplied the tournament's breakout star in James Rodriguez. Now comes the moment of truth. Can they enjoy continued success?
The evidence of the past four years is not conclusive. Colombia have been consistently underwhelming. True, they beat Brazil in the 2015 Copa America -- still the only competitive defeat Neymar has suffered playing for his country at senior level -- but it came with the only goal they managed in four gam es.
Third place in the 2016 Centenary Copa was a little better, but still they failed to sparkle. And their qualification campaign was a laboured affair, with few highlights along the way. They crawled over the line, drawing their final four games in a campaign in which Pekerman used a total of 45 players -- a huge amount for one coach and an indication that he was struggling to find his best team and his best system.
It could be that the need to settle on a World Cup squad of 23 has helped matters, forcing the coach to focus. There is little recent evidence to go on; Colombia's only warm-up friendly was a goalless draw against Egypt on June 1. But it would seem that he has gone for a loose 4-3-3, in which centre-forward Radamel Falcao Garcia is flanked by Juan Guillermo Cuadrado and James Rodriguez, with the latter free to roam across the attacking line.
Falcao, of course, was missing from the last World Cup, ruled out by injury. His presence gives the sid e a cutting edge. In top form, he is a magnificent predatory sight. But he is essentially a front-to-goal striker. Linking the play with his back to goal is not his specialty. He needs supply, passes and crosses in front of him that he can attack.
Rodriguez will be expected to serve as his chief supply line. The star of Brazil 2014 has endured a frustrating four years, finding it hard to establish himself at Real Madrid before finding more continuity at Bayern Munich, where he has also been used in a deeper role.
Rodriguez clearly loves playing for Colombia, where he is important. And with Falcao motivated to shine in what will almost certainly be his only World Cup, the link between them is of great importance to the Colombian challenge.
Elsewhere in the team, Colombia can count on a solid corps of players with 2014 experience. Perhaps the most important is holding midfielder Carlos Sanchez, who in his quiet way is a key figure protecting the defence and balan cing the side. Keeper David Ospina is another important player, especially because Colombia lack a top-class backup.
But spending his time on the bench at Arsenal has clearly taken its toll on Ospina, who has had a very poor few months with the national team. Colombia badly need him to recapture his best form.
Perhaps the most interesting newcomers are at centre-back, where Yerry Mina and Davinson Sanchez are quick and strong and should enable Colombia to play a much higher line than four years ago, when the presence of the veteran Mario Yepes obliged the team to defend close to goal.
Along with the old stagers and the new boys is a wild card: attacking midfielder Juan Fernando Quintero. A 21-year-old four years ago, he was backup to Rodriguez and scored a goal against Ivory Coast. Subsequently, though, he seemed to lose interest in the game. He put on weight, and there were rumours that he was about to give up football for a career in music.
But reinvigo rated by the prospect of another World Cup, he has forced his way into the squad. When Colombia are searching for a goal, his brand of left-footed creativity could be a useful resource off the bench. In the recent game against Egypt, Colombia's game flowed best when he came on to link up with James Rodriguez.
And so the place at football's top table beckons. The table has been laid, and the chair is waiting. All that remains is for Colombia to show that they are worthy of sitting there.
Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.Source: Google News Colombia | Netizen 24 Colombia