In José Pékerman, Colombia have a tactically smart manager. In James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao, Colombia have incredible talent. In Wílmar Barrios, Jefferson Lerma, and Davinson Sánchez, Colombia have promising youth. With previous inconsistent qualification campaigns forgotten, and with the side firmly back on the footballing radar, Colombia can repeat their feats from the last World Cup and be one of the stories to remember this summer.
The road to Russia
Colombia were able to qualify automatically for the World Cup – finishing 4th – although this wasn’t easy.
Coming from the back of a successful tournament in Brazil, progression and consistency were key targets for manager Pékerman. Los Cafeteros were good enough to achieve the former, but they’ll need to make sure to perform at their best from their first games in Russia.
Colombia’s biggest obstacle in finding consistency during qualifying was their inability to beat their direct rivals. They opened up their campaign with a 2-0 win against Peru, a result that would prove to be key in the final table. That first match, however, was followed by a run of two defeats and a draw against Uruguay, Chile, and Argentina. Pékerman’s side managed to find their pace again with wins over Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela, but they stumbled in their first game against Brazil, halting their sequence of three consecutive wins.
Luckily, the side were really efficient against the teams they were expected to beat for the majority of the campaign. At the end of the qualifiers, however, Colombia put their almost-guaranteed place in the World Cup in jeopardy after a home defeat to Paraguay in the penultimate game, with a vital clash against Peru coming in the last game. With Chile unable to beat Brazil, however, a draw against Peru got Colombia over the line.
How do they play?
The most likely formation will be a traditional 4-2-3-1, but they can also switch to a 4-2-2-2. With these formations, Colombia will have the versatility to attack efficiently and also have solid defensive coverage. Colombia tend to control possession and move the ball quickly while trying to find space to attack. They also press well, and sometimes switch to a back five with a wide midfielder dropping back.
James will be the creative brain of the team, using his play-making skills to unleash Juan Cuadrado’s pace and to feed Falcao. In 2006, when manager of Argentina, Pékerman built his side around Juan Román Riquelme, and we should see something similar this year with James. Together with his creative ability, James can create chances for himself with his skill and good shooting.
Pékerman has very good options to choose in his attack. Falcao has been phenomenal since returning to Monaco in 2016, winning Ligue 1 in his first season back and being a consistent goalscorer in France. Carlos Bacca can be a good partner to Falcao, providing a mix of pace and goalscoring threat. Miguel Borja seems to have found his form back for Palmeiras this season, and Luis Muriel is another pacey option to come from the bench.
The formation Pékerman will choose will also bring protection to his side. The two defensive midfielders will be able to protect the back line, but will also need to be technically good to start the build-up play and control the middle of the park. The likely duo will be Abel Aguilar and Carlos Sánchez, providing physical presence to their midfield.
The defensive line is also strong, with Yerry Mina and Davinson Sánchez set to be the starting pair. Sánchez is considered the best young talent in this team and had a very good debut season for Tottenham, while Mina has not played much since joining Barcelona, but was successful when playing for Palmeiras in Brazil. The full-back duo of Santiago Arias and Johan Mojica — who will play in place of injured Frank Fabra — also provide good versatility, with both being able to attack and defend.
Who is their star player?
It’s not easy to decide between Falcao and James. Both are great players, and this duo will be one of the most dangerous in the World Cup; but I think James offers more than Falcao, and his presence makes Colombia a lot better.
James is not the type of player every national team has. He’s a player that the team can give the ball and the responsibility to create scoring opportunities. Last time out, James went home with the Golden Boot, an affirmation of his talent to score goals apart from just creating them. Undoubtedly, James is the side’s most creative player, and one who needs to shine for Colombia to be successful.
How far will they go?
Colombia’s group may be the hardest to get through. Los Cafeteros are joined by Poland, Senegal, and Japan in Group H. However, I do think that Colombia have an edge over their rivals.
It won’t be surprising to see Colombia repeating the feat from 2014 by reaching the quarter-finals again, especially with Pékerman managing the side for six years and with the players knowing each other better. The players have assimilated how Pékerman wants them to play, and the promising generation from 2014 has been developed and rejuvenated with young talent.
What should we look out for?
Colombia’s home shirt for this World Cup is amazing. We just hope that Colombia’s football can be as great as their kit.
In this year’s World Cup, Adidas has been trying to mix the old together with the new. The 2018 shirt for Colombia refers to the 1990 shirt, where we saw Carlos Valderrama featuring in yellow. The colours of the flag feature on the sides of the kit, giving a stylish look to the yellow that covers the majority of the shirt.
With players like James and Falcao wearing the shirt this year, a good campaign by Colombia could see this kit become iconic in football culture. A nice thing to look out for.