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World Cup: Colombia seek to revive their magic after tepid qualifiers
June 12, 2018 | 3:08 PM
by Reuters
Argentine coach Jose Pekerman will be striving to bring back the magic to a team that boasts Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez.
 
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WITH a scintillating counter-attacking style and salsa-dancing celebrations, Colombia became the darlings of the 2014 World Cup where they shimmied their way to the quarterfinals.

But the “cafeteros”, as they are known in honour of the Andean country’s rich Arabica coffee, lost some of their swagger in the qualifying campaign for this World Cup.

They scored just 21 goals during the gruelling two-year, 18-match South American qualifiers and limped over the line with three points from their last four games to claim fourth spot.

Argentine coach Jose Pekerman will be striving to bring back the magic to a team that boasts Monaco striker Radamel Falcao and 2014 Golden Boot winner James Rodriguez.



There were glimpses of the old lustre during Colombia’s friendly against France in March, when the South Americans roared back from 2-0 down to beat “Les Bleus” 3-2.

“Colombia showed World Cup attitude,” a satisfied Pekerman said after the game at the Stade de France.

Colombians are also pinning their hopes on Falcao, known as “El Tigre” (The Tiger), who sat out the 2014 World Cup due to a ligament injury but is hoping to make up for lost time in Russia.

“I’ve imagined myself scoring a goal in the World Cup many times. I haven’t counted how many times, but yes, many times,” Falcao, 32, laughingly said in a recent interview.

Luckily for his canary-yellow-shirted squad, Colombia will face manageable rivals in Japan, Senegal, and Poland - with Group H the only one to lack a World Cup winner.

The liveliest showdown will likely be between Colombia, ranked 16th, and Poland, ranked 10th and back in the tournament for the first time since 2006 thanks to record scorer Robert Lewandowski.

Senegal, ranked 28th, will be competing in the World Cup for the second time after reaching the quarter-finals in Japan and South Korea in 2002.

Japan sealed their sixth straight qualification for the World Cup but are ranked a lowly 60th. Comfortingly for Colombia, they thrashed Japan 4-1 at the 2014 World Cup.

“It’s a level group, we have to compete very well to get through the first round,” Rodriguez, whose first name is pronounced “Hamez” in his adoring home country, said recently on Twitter.

“Difficult, but nothing is impossible.”

Colombia are in their fifth World Cup, with their quarterfinal appearance at Brazil 2014 - where they lost to the hosts - their best performance.

Factbox

FIFA ranking: 16

Previous tournaments

Colombia are playing in their fifth World Cup, with their quarter-final appearance at Brazil 2014 - where they lost to the hosts - their best performance. The Andean country is best remembered for its 1990s team featuring characters such as eccentric goalkeeper Rene Higuita and blond-locked Carlos Valderrama.

Coach: Jose Pekerman

The silver-haired Argentine has led Colombia since 2012, pulling the “cafeteros” (coffee-makers) out of a lean period and propelling them to their first consecutive World Cups. He put faith in the talented squad’s attacking instincts and most notably in striker Radamel Falcao. Pekerman, 68, also had a two-year stint as coach of the Argentina team that went to the 2006 World Cup but lost to hosts Germany in the quarter-finals. He has a close link to Colombia, however, having played half his career as a midfielder for Independiente Medellin.

Key players

James Rodriguez: Fresh from clinching a sixth successive Bundesliga title with Bayern Munich, the 26-year-old Rodriguez will be hoping to keep up his winning streak in Russia. “Hamez,” as his adoring Colombian fans pronounce his first name, was top scorer at the 2014 World Cup and won over many in the public with his dazzling goals and dancing celebrations. There is much more pressure on the left-footed midfielder this time around, however, but ‘James-mania’ may well strike again.

Radamel Falcao: Monaco striker Radamel Falcao, 32, missed out on the 2014 World Cup due to a ligament injury. But “El Tigre” (The Tiger) is planning to roar back in Russia and has confessed to daydreaming about the goals he wants to score for the canary-yellow team.

Juan Cuadrado: The Juventus winger is feared for his fierce counter-attacks and goals from near-impossible angles. Cuadrado, 29, was unable to play for Juve for three months due to a groin injury but when he returned against AC Milan in March, he scored barely 15 minutes in to set his side on the way to a 3-1 win.

Form guide

Colombia had a disappointing qualifying campaign but their attacking prowess and ability to turn games has been on display since. Trailing 2-0 in a friendly against France in March, they clawed back to beat “Les Bleus” 3-2 at the Stade de France. But Colombia were unable to beat Australia a few days later in a goalless draw that highlighted the South American team’s sometimes erratic form.

How they qualified

Colombia did just enough to secure fourth spot in the South American group but they scored only 21 goals and limped over the line with three draws and a defeat in their final four games. Pekerman fielded 45 players in their 18-match qualifying campaign as he struggled to find the right formula to overcome an unexpected shortage of goals in a team brimming with top forwards.

Prospects

With a formidable attack and a relatively manageable group, Colombia are highly competitive. Group H, where Colombia will face Japan, Senegal, and Poland, is the only one to lack a World Cup winner and should provide opportunities for the South Americans to rack up a few goals.

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