Being Venezuelan by birth and a football fan by choice, I look over to our neighbours to the west with a bit of envy. Colombia is very close as they share a border with Venezuela but the gulf in class is quite large when it comes to the product on the pitch. The Colombian team being fielded is a team that has so many attacking threats that on their day, can give any side in the world fits.
The qualifying for Colombia was rather brisk. They finished second in a tough CONMEBOL group, two points behind group toppers Argentina. During their qualifying run they scored 26 goals in 16 matches whilst only conceding 13 which was the lowest total in the group, showing that the much talked about attack isn’t all they have at their disposal.
Players & System
There is one player you think about when the Colombia’s national team is talked about and with good reason — Falcao. On the good, he is a deadly world class striker who scored 9 of their qualifying goals. At the club level the he has scored more than 150 times during stints with Porto, Atletico Madrid and Monaco. To the bad, his injury will likely determine how far Colombia can go in the group. His much publicized race with the ACL injury he suffered in January will go down to the wire. He trained with the team this week yet it will be impossible for him to be at 100% in Brazil by his own admission, which will bring a bigger role to the likes of Jackson Martinez.
*Note: Falcao has been left off the final roster
To a lesser extent, one player that is 100% ruled out of the tournament is Edwin Valencia. The defensive minded midfielder is a player that was introduced after the qualifiers had begun and his influence was immediately felt when Colombia’s now well know attack finally could go full forward without much thought as Valencia was able to marshal the midfield and cover for the fullbacks when needed. Who will step up to replace him? It will be up to the likes of Carlos Sanchez to play that defensive midfield role; not a notable replacement for such an important role as their attack is blessed with in Jackson Martinez.
The key players in attack will be Monaco midfielder James Rodriguez, the aforementioned Martinez from Porto, Teofilo Gutierrez from River, Fiorentina’s Cuadrado and Abel Aguilar from Tolouse. There are other prominent names in attack that will feature but this quick list tells you where the strength of this team lies. Colombia boasts speed on the wings and up top with their forwards.
The defense is a much more interesting proposition. The fullbacks attack on a regular basis which makes that defensive midfield role so important. Pablo Armero and Juan Zuniga will have to be more contained; we don’t know how that will affect the Colombia’s ability to attack effectively as they add width and pace to an already threatening attack, sometimes overwhelming opponents. This brings us to the centre-backs. There is a clear lack of pace and athleticism here, the only area on the pitch where the team lack that trait. Between the elder statesman and captain Yepes and Perea who is a bit beyond his best, you have experience but lack of mobility. There is talk that Christian Zapata will certainly occupy one of the CB slots and may be called on to captain in the absence of Yepes — that could help them greatly at that position.
So, how will the Colombian’s deploy their vast attacking prowess? Well, they play a variation of a 4-4-2. It will have the look of a 3-1-4-2 when they are free flowing. Their fullbacks will join the attack, the defensive midfielder will be asked to cover either side and they will go at their opponent with little regard for defence and full of attacking ability and athleticism. On their day, they can make life unbearable for any team. When they aren’t effective, they are very susceptible to counters.
Conclusion & Prediction
This Colombia team is very, very dangerous. If they find the right balance and can cover for the absence of Valencia, they have enough in attack, even without Falcao to give anyone problems. The key will be covering their fullbacks and limiting the exposure of their centre-back’s lack of mobility.
The group that they are in features Ivory Coast, Japan and Greece. I don’t expect that Japan or Greece will be able to sustain enough of an attacking threat to put Colombia on their back foot, which is what it will take to stop their attack from overcoming their defences. Ivory Coast on the other hand boast a handful of players that have the pace and power to make life very difficult on the Colombians.
The Ivory Coast match is the match that will decided the group in my opinion. The key matchup will be in the midfield area. Can the Colombians cover for their charging fullbacks and contain the likes of Yaya Toure running through their midfield at center-backs that lack mobility? If the Ivorians can sustain in attack and Toure is allowed to play all day running towards the Colombian goal, they will be hard to beat. On the flip side, if the Colombians can sustain their attack and make Yaya chase shadows and run towards his goal, it should be Colombia’s day. It should be a fun match to watch for the casual observer.
My prediction is that Colombia and Ivory Coast will go through in this group with Colombia winning it.