Colombia: From Coffee Growers To World Cup Dark Horses
With just over a fortnight until the 20th FIFA World Cup kicks off in Brazil, teams across the globe are putting their final preparations into training camps as the squads are whittled down to the 23 men that will compete when June 12th comes around in Sao Paulo. Since the domestic season concluded with Real Madrid’s rallying effort to deny Atletico Madrid a famous Spanish league and European double, focus has now fully turned to international matters and who might lift the coveted Jules Rimet trophy at the Maracana on July 13th.
Hosts Brazil are heavily favoured with a relatively young and yet immensely talented group on home soil; Argentina are also potential victors; holders Spain will most likely be there or there abouts; as will Germany. However, another South American side have been slowly building momentum in the last few years and that has gone full steam in the last campaign. Colombia are real dark horses.
Much of the press has been dominated by Radamel Falcao’s injury since he suffered a torn ACL in January for Monaco in the French Cup. Colombia’s talisman had been in scintillating form since rising from the ranks of River Plate progressing from Porto and Atletico culminating in his 60m Euro move to Monaco last summer. ‘El Tigre’ as he is known has not played a game since injury but on Monday, did participate in squad training near Buenos Aires.
There is no doubting Falcao’s 9 goals in 17 apperances in getting to Brazil for his country and his absence from the Colombian ranks will hurt Los Cafeteros‘ chances in Brazil. However there are many other attacking options for coach Jose Pekerman to consider. Firstly there is Jackson Martinez of Porto. Martinez, like Falcao has risen to prominence in Portugal with his goals and strong hold up play and surprising pace in his locker.
Udinese’s prodigal son Luis Muriel has flattered to deceive at times in Serie A, but – like many of his squad mates – has strength and pace in abundance which makes him a threat. Having scored 14 goals in the 2012/13 campaign and having been linked to Liverpool to replace the – at the time – departing Luis Suarez, much was expected of the diminutive forward. Alas having netted just four times in 14 this season, Muriel’s form has dipped. However, one would be foolish to write him off to have an impact in the World Cup.
The real boost for Colombia this season has been the emergence of both Adrian Ramos and Carlos Bacca. Ramos, 28, has plied his trade in Germany with Hertha Berlin since 2009, and this term has seen the 6’1 striker compile 16 goals in 24 games. Ramos could most easily be compared to Martinez and whilst in similar stature both individuals games’ offer something different.
Carlos Bacca burst onto the scene after scoring a brace for Sevilla versus Real Madrid in Sevilla in March. Bacca signed a 7 million Euro deal from Club Brugge in July and has a 30m Euro buy out clause. For Sevilla it may be just as well; The Colombian scored in both legs of Sevilla’s Europe League quarter finals on the way to lifting the trophy in Turin. Bacca reached 14 goals in his debut La Liga season
Between Bacca, Martinez, Ramos, Martinez and Muriel in their front line alone, the combined total goals this campaign is a staggering 54 goals. Even if Falcao has limited availability, it does make one ponder…..
It’s not just in the forward line Pekerman’s men ooze talent. If fact arguably, the midfield boasts a more creative and technical joie de vivre. In particular with Fiorentina’s Juan Cuadrado. The 26 year old’s versatility is key to his game. primarily a winger, his strength and speed allows him to operate as a wing back and if necessary and full back. Cuadrado has scored 11 goals in his first full season after a loan spell the term before. The Colombian is likely to be a breakout star of the tournament.
We have seen a common theme of pace and strength in the Colombian attack but that physicality and technical ability runs throughout the side. There are also common links between midfielders and front men which adds an element of chemistry other countries will lack. The particular link that springs to mind being FC Porto as a club. As documented both Falcao and Martinez are former and current occupants at Estadio Do Dragao. Also fitting that bracket are Falcao’s clubmate James Rodriguez and Porto’s next big thing Juan Quintero.
Rodriguez or ‘James’ as he is more simplistically known made the move to Monaco – with the Portuguese Joao Moutinho – shortly before Falcao made the switch from Atletico. James spent his formative years in Portugal between 2010 and 2013, with Radamel Falcao but as a fringe player before making the step to first-teamer (ironicaly behind Moutinho.) The 22 year old’s playmaking skills have seen him likened to Colombian icon Carlos Valderrama – and his hair.
Less is expected of Quintero at this stage but is likely to be a significant impact player from the sidelines. Yet another former Porto player Fredy Guarin will play a key role in moving the ball through the field with his midfield partner James. Guarin has dipped in and out of form but has still progressed significantly to command a role in the Inter side. Guarin spent 4 years in Porto and had recently been linked with Chelsea, with Jose Mourinho a known admirer, before signing an extended contract with the Nerazzurri.
Colombia’s ace up their sleeve could like at the feet of a forward, but who for his national side is deployed in midfield. Victor Ibarbo as become renowned in Italy for his aerial ability but also pace. The Cagliari man has only seven caps for his country but has began to show his ability in front of goal and is sure to be a handful for opposing defences.
The one factor which may prevent the Colombians from reaching the latter stages of this particular World Cup could be their experienced yes, but veteran backline. That is most the case with their centre back pairing of Mario Yepes and Luis Perea. 38 and 42 respectively. Yepes a former PSG and Milan man and Colombia’s captain. Perea spent eight years at Atletico as a pacey right back/defender but since then he has lost his pace. The South American’s do have a more than able central defender in Milan’s Cristian Zapata. This is backed up by speed on the flanks with Jonathan Zuniga and fresh from his stint at West Ham, Pablo Armero. It is more than likely though that the Colombians will look to attack from the back. Whether that could be their undoing remains to be seen.
As the World Cup reaches its’ climax in the hallowed arena of the Maracana in Rio De Janeiro, the odds would certainly favour a South American finalist. But whilst most believe that is likely to be Brazil or Argentina, it may just be that another nation will be vying for global supremacy that day. Jose Pekerman’s Colombia may lack defensive awareness, but in a World Cup that is likely to be the highest scoring competition in its’ history and with very few defences looked upon as formidable, Los Cafeteros could well have their day in the Brazilian sun.