Sixteen years spent in the wilderness will come to an end this summer when Colombia makes its long-overdue return to the World Cup. Who could have known that the nation that showed so much promise in the early 1990s—tipped by Pele to win the 1994 World Cup—would sit out three consecutive tournaments after last qualifying for France ’98? Buoyed by the electric Radamel Falcao and an exciting crop of attacking players, Los Cafeteros were touted as a potential dark horse. But then Falcao suffered a season-ending injury back in January while playing for AS Monaco. Now Colombia heads to Brazil without their best player.
Goalkeepers: David Ospina (Nice), Faryd Mondragon (Deportivo Cali), Camilo Vargas (Santa Fe)
Defenders: Camilo Zuniga (Napoli), Santiago Arias (PSV Eindhoven), Mario Alberto Yepes (Atalanta), Cristian Zapata (AC Milan), Pablo Armero (West Ham), Eder Alvarez Balanta (River Plate), Carlos Valdes (San Lorenzo)
Midfielders: Alex Mejia (Atletico Nacional), Freddy Guarin (Inter), Abel Aguilar (Toulouse), Aldo Leao Ramirez (Morelia), Carlos Sanchez (Elche), Juan Quintero (Porto), Juan Cuadrado (Fiorentina), James Rodriguez (Monaco)
Forwards: Carlos Bacca (Sevilla), Teofilo Gutierrez (River Plate), Jackson Martinez (Porto), Victor Ibarbo (Cagliari), Adrian Ramos (Herta Berlin)
A savvy tactician, Jose Pekerman led his native Argentina to the quarterfinals of the 2006 World Cup. Though not a popular choice in Colombia initially, he’s proved the doubters wrong with Los Cafeteros’s huge success.
4-2-2-2: (GK) Ospina – (D) Zuniga, Yepes, Zapata, Armero – (M) Cuadrado, Guarin, Sanchez, Rodriguez – (F) Gutierrez, Martinez
Group B schedule
June 14: vs. Greece in Belo Horizonte
June 19: vs. Ivory Coast in Brasilia
June 24: vs. Japan in Cuiaba
How they qualified
South American qualifying is a long and tiring slog. An ability to grind out results is paramount. You also have to be able to bounce back and adapt, especially when you’re competing within such a crowded field of teams. Colombia did all of these things after stumbling out of the gate. A loss to Argentina led to a coaching change, and Jose Pékerman took over after three games in early 2012. The Argentine manager experimented with his lineup and tactics, but the players responded as the team went on a five-game winning streak that lifted them towards the top of the table. Chile and Ecuador continued to nip at their heels, but the Colombians held steady to finish second in the group, just behind Argentina.
This team can create and finish goals with the best of them. This is the best Colombian team since the famous 1994 squad, a mix of wonderful midfield talent and absolutely devastating strike power, minus Falcao, of course.
It comes down to nitpicking, but there’s an argument to be made that Mario Yepes, the captain and a regular centre back, lacks the pace to mark the best strikers in the world. Awareness and experience count for a lot, but the attack-minded Japanese and Ivorians can run a slow defender ragged.
Players to watch
James Rodriguez: The star playmaker. Radamel Falcao’s teammate at Monaco, he’s got a keen eye for a pass from the middle.
Freddy Guarin: The Inter attacking midfielder/winger has power and dribbling ability, as well as an eye for a cross into Colombia’s talented strikers.
Teofilo Gutierrez: With Falcao out, it`ll be up to the River Plate (who scored six goals in the qualifiers) forward to lead the line.
Can they make it without Falcao? The team’s leading scorer in qualification, he was the focus of a well-honed attack. They’re good without him, but they’re great with him. And they will miss him.
Prospects in Brazil
Colombia hasn’t been this good in long time. Even without Radamel Falcao, they have a very powerful attacking corps that can do damage to just about any team. They should progress out of the group and may just improve on their best-ever quarterfinals finish
World Cup history
They’ve only made the tournament four times, and haven’t been to the big show since 1998.
1930 to 1950 – Did not enter
1954 – Banned
1958 – Did not qualify
1962 – First round
1966 to 1986 – Did not qualify
1990 – Second round
1994 – First round
1998 – First round
2002 to 2010 – Did not qualify
Algeria || Argentina || Australia || Belgium || Bosnia and Herzegovina || Brazil || Cameroon || Chile || Colombia || Costa Rica || Croatia || Ecuador || England || France || Germany || Ghana || Greece || Holland || Honduras || Iran || Italy || Ivory Coast || Japan || Mexico || Nigeria || Portugal || Russia || South Korea || Spain || Switzerland || Uruguay || United States