Manager: Jose Pekerman
Other teams in group: Japan, Poland, Senegal
Colombia scraped into the final automatic qualification spot in South America by the skin of their teeth at the expense of Peru and Chile. Jose Pekerman’s side go into the tournament with a renewed sense of optimism and will be overwhelming favourites to top their group.
Jose Pekerman has been at the helm for Colombia since 2012 and guided them to the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Pekerman had previously taken his native Argentina to the 2006 World Cup in Germany and before enjoyed a highly successfully spell as coach of the Argentina u-20’s winning 3 youth World Cups in 1995, 1997 and 2001.
Bayern Munich midfielder James Rodriguez was the shining star for Colombia in Brazil in 2014 and will once again be their main talisman. The ever industrious stalwart Carlos Sanchez (Espanyol) has been included as well as Brighton’s Jose Izquierdo who has been rewarded for his impressive displays since joining The Seagulls in January. Pekerman has also opted for out of sorts Juventus winger Juan Cuadrado who failed to impress this season with the Old Lady.
All-time top scorer Radamel Falcao, who missed out four years ago, has been included and will be their main threat up front. However, Falcao is unlikely to be leading the line and will most likely be partnered by either Villareal’s Carlos Bacca or Sevilla sensation Luis Fernando Muriel but would mean that an attacking midfielder would need to be sacrificed.
Pekerman has a selection dilemma in the goalkeeping department as long-time first choice keeper David Ospina (Arsenal) rarely featured for the Gunners this season and he made some catastrophic errors towards the end of the qualifying campaign. Pekerman does have the option of calling on home based Camilo Vargas or Jose Fernando Cuadrado, who both received opportunities during qualification.
At the back Colombia look quite solid with Tottenham’s Davinson Sanchez, who slotted in seamlessly in his debut season in the Premier League. Milan’s Cristian Zapata brings reliability alongside Barcelona’s physically imposing Yerry Mina and Santiago Arias of PSV Eindhoven.
Colombia are overwhelming favourites to top their group but they will need inspiration from their playmaker James Rodriquez and for Juan Cuadrado to provide the service for Falcao to thrive from. If the team gels, then a quarter-final spot could be in the offing for Los Cafeteros?
The squad in full:
Goalkeepers: David Ospina (Arsenal), Camilo Vargas (Deportivo Cali), Jose Fernando Cuadrado (Once Caldas).
Defenders: Cristian Zapata (Milan), Davinson Sanchez (Tottenham), Santiago Arias (PSV Eindhoven), Oscar Murillo (Pachuca), Frank Fabra (Boca Juniors), Johan Mojica (Girona), Yerry Mina (Barcelona)
Midfielders: Wílmar Barrios (Boca Juniors), Carlos Sanchez (Espanyol), Jefferson Lerma (Levante), Jose Izquierdo (Brighton), James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich), Abel Aguilar (Deportivo Cali), Mateus Uribe (America), Juan Fernando Quintero (River Plate), Juan Cuadrado (Juventus)
Forwards: Radamel Falcao (Monaco), Miguel Borja (Palmeiras), Carlos Bacca (Villarreal), Luis Fernando Muriel (Sevilla)
HOW THEY GOT THERE
Colombia made the perfect start to their qualification campaign with a comfortable 2-0 win over Peru in Barranquilla with goals from Edwin Cardona and Teofilo Gutierrez in October 2015, but they then followed that up with a disappointing 3-0 hammering by Uruguay in Montevideo five days later. Los Cafeteros managed to salvage a 1-1 draw against Chile in their next match in Santiago in November with James Rodriguez getting the equaliser after Colombia had fallen behind to an Arturo Vidal strike.
A few days later they suffered another setback when an early Lucas Biglia goal condemned them to a 1-0 defeat at home to Argentina and meant that they had only taken 4 points from 4 matches. Los Cafeteros got themselves back on track with 3 wins on the spin over Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela. The victory over Bolivia in La Paz was perhaps the most satisfying having led 2-0 they were pegged back to 2-2 but another late Edwin Cardona goal was enough to see them win 3-2 in a tough fixture which saw very few teams take maximum points from.
Brazil brought the Colombian juggernaut back down to earth with a 2-1 win over Jose Pekerman’s side in Manaus. Colombia went on another 3 game unbeaten run before Argentina inflicted a near mortal wound on Los Cafeteros with a resounding 3-0 win in San Juan in November 2016. The result left Colombia with 18 points from 12 matches and with much to do to book their plane ticket to Russia.
However, just one defeat in their remaining six matches was enough to squeeze Colombia into 4th place and automatic qualification for the World Cup with 27 points from their 18 matches.
KEY PLAYERS TO WATCH
Without a doubt the most instantly recognisable face in the Colombian squad is the highly talented but often frustrating figure of Bayern Munich star James Rodriguez who will be heavily relied upon to conjure up moments of magic and be the linchpin in the middle of the park.
Davinson Sanchez enjoyed an excellent start to life in the English Premier League with some impressive performances for Spurs and exhibited a coolness and composure at the back that could be vital for Colombia’s chances of progression.
Vastly experienced striker Radamel Falcao still possesses the killer instinct in front of goal and has the knack for being in the right place at the right time. After difficult spells in England at Manchester United and Chelsea he returned to form during Monaco’s excellent run to the Champions League semi-finals in 2017.
Perhaps a lesser known but equally deadly striker is that of Sevilla’s Luis Fernando Muriel who gave Manchester United a torrid time during their 2nd Round tie in the Champions League which saw the Spanish side knock the Red Devils out. Muriel could well be the preferred choice as the strike partner of Falcao and could be vital to Los Cafeteros’ chances of progression.
WHERE ARE THEY PLAYING AND STAYING
Mordovia Arena, Saransk, June 19 v Japan, KO 13.00
Kazan Arena, Kazan, June 24 v Poland, KO 19.00
Samara Arena, Samara, June 28 v Senegal, KO 15.00
THREE INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT THE TEAM
Former eccentric goalkeeper Rene Higuita went down in footballing history when he produced an extraordinary moment in a friendly match with England at Wembley in 1995 with the now infamous scorpion kick clearance.
Colombia produced one of the biggest comebacks in the World Cup history in the 1962 tournament in Chile when they came from 4-1 down to draw 4-4 with the Soviet Union.
Los Cafeteros also scored a goal direct from a corner kick in that same match against the Soviet Union making them the only nation in World Cup history to have ever scored a goal direct from a corner kick.
France 2-3 Colombia
Colombia 0-0 Australia
Egypt 0-0 Colombia
First game: June 19 v Japan KO 13.00