World Cup Profile: Colombia look to build upon successful 2014 campaign

In the second of our profiles on the Latin American, Spanish and Portuguese teams who have qualified for next year’s World Cup finals, Lewis Blakeman looks at Colombia – nicknamed ‘Los Cafeteros’ – and their chances of repeating their success of 2014 at this summer’s tournament.
by: 
Lewis Blakeman

Having failed to qualify for a World Cup for the previous 16 years, Los Cafeteros’ performance at the 2014 showpiece reignited a sense of national pride, unity, and optimism for the people of Colombia. After winning their group for the first time, Colombia cruised past a dangerous Uruguay side, before eventually falling to hosts Brazil in a tight quarter-finals clash in Fortaleza.

Upon their return to Colombia, the national team were met with a heroes’ welcome, as thousands of fans lines the streets of Bogotá to show their appreciation and excitement, as Colombian football entered a new golden era.

Qualification this time around was less straightforward, with José Pékerman’s side securing their place in Russia on the final day of CONMEBOL fixtures. As Chile trailed Brazil by three goals to nil, Colombia and Peru knew that a draw between the two sides would allow them to both qualify – knocking Chile out in the process.

In controversial circumstances, the game petered out in the final five minutes, with both teams seemingly happy to share the points. The match finished 1-1, with Colombia taking 4th spot in the qualifying standings, granting them automatic passage into the 2018 World Cup for the second tournament running.

In Russia, the Colombians will face Japan, Poland and Senegal in Group H, where they should expect to comfortably top their group once more. Their tie against Poland on June 24th sees star player James Rodríguez face-off against club teammate Robert Lewandowski, with both carrying the expectations of a nation on their shoulders.

Rodríguez has struggled of late to replicate his fine form of 2014, which saw him take home both the Golden Boot and Goal of the Tournament awards at the Brazil World Cup. After falling out of favour at Real Madrid, Rodríguez secured a loan move to Bayern Munich in the summer, and has so far managed just three goals and five assists for the German league-leaders. Nonetheless, his six goals for Colombia in the World Cup qualifiers played a big role in helping his country to qualify for this summer’s tournament.

Alongside him in Russia, Rodríguez will hope to have Radamel Falcao (‘El Tigre’), who missed the 2014 World Cup through injury. After a hugely disappointing two years in England with Manchester United and Chelsea, Falcao has rediscovered his ruthless scoring ability at AS Monaco, and fired his club side to unexpected Ligue 1 success last season with 21 goals.

With Falcao and Rodríguez providing the goals, and Juan Cuadrado (the top assist-maker at the 2014 World Cup) supplying the chances, Colombia have enough firepower to overcome any side. The challenge for José Pékerman will be coaching his defence to avoid repeating the types of errors that marred his team during the qualification stage.

Both Colombian, and neutral fans alike, will hope to see Los Cafeteros enjoy a successful campaign, with the team’s 'chichoke' dance celebrations capturing the hearts of fans worldwide during the last World Cup tournament.

Often thought of as many people’s ‘second team’, Colombia have long been an icon of international football – with classic moments including René Higuita’s unforgettable scorpion kick, and tragic events such as the death of captain Andrés Escobar, living long in the memory of football fans across the world.

Rodríguez and co. will hope to put on a show once more this summer, and to take their great nation beyond the quarter-finals on football’s grand stage. Those hoping to see Los Cafeteros in action have the chance to do so in May, as they face Australia in a friendly tie at Fulham’s Craven Cottage stadium in London.

The rest will be tuned into their televisions in June, excitedly waiting to see if Rodríguez can replicate his incredible form of 2014, and better that unforgettable PUSKAS Award winning goal against Uruguay!

 

 

 

THE PLAYERS TO WATCH

James Rodríguez. Despite manager José Pékerman selecting over 40 players during Colombia’s qualification campaign, James Rodríguez’ place in the side will always be guaranteed. His ability to control the midfield and play key passes into the strikers will be fundamental to any success Colombia are to have during this summer’s tournament. With an eye for goal, and precision from set-pieces, Rodríguez is the ultimate ‘danger man’ to trouble opposition defences.

Juan Cuadrado. After rarely being given a chance to impress during his short spell in England with Chelsea, Cuadrado joined Italian champions Juventus, where he has cemented a place on the right of midfield. His fine form last season helped Juvé to win the Serie A title and reach the Champions League final, while his goal away to Ecuador secured a vital win for Colombia in their World Cup qualification campaign. His speed and dribbling ability make him a handful for any defender, and his powerful shooting ability can trouble the best of goalkeepers.

Radamel Falcao. ‘El Tigre’ was once arguably the greatest striker in the world, with an incredible 70 goals in just 91 games for Atlético Madrid between 2011-2013. Despite being just 1.77 m tall, Falcao presents a threat with his head, as well as being a deadly finished with both his left and right foot. His 28 goals for Colombia make him the nation’s leading goal-scorer of all time, and he will look to add to his goal tally during the World Cup this summer.

Yerry Mina. The 23-year-old will become the first Colombian to play for FC Barcelona when he makes his debut, following an €11.8 million move from Brazilian side Palmeiras this January. At 6'5, Mina has the height to win any defensive aerial duel, and also presents a threat in the opposition box. He enjoys playing with the ball at his feet, and has the confidence to bring the ball out from defence and start attacks from the back. His equalising goal against Uruguay in qualifying earned Colombia a vital point to send them on their way to the 2018 World Cup.