There is Plenty of Life after Falcao for Colombia

Losing a talismanic striker in the run up to a World Cup can be a bitter pill to swallow and one that can prove detrimental to a team’s aspirations. In January, Colombia’s Radamel Falcao suffered anterior cruciate ligament damage while playing for Monaco in the French Cup and despite undergoing surgery; the 28-year-old lost his battle against time to be fit for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

falcao

When the decision was finally made to omit Falcao from Colombia’s final 23-man squad, coach Jose Pekerman called it his “saddest day” since becoming Colombia coach.” The tactician’s poignancy emphasised the forwards importance to Los Cafeteros renaissance over the last two years. Falcao is the nation’s second top scorer of all time with 20 goals in 51 caps. His prolific form during World Cup qualification, including a haul of nine goals in 13 games, helped Colombia qualify for Brazil comfortably, narrowly finishing second behind Argentina.

Following their CONMEBOL qualification campaign – the most successful in Colombia’s history – optimism and expectations soared. The South Americans were returning to the World Cup after a 16-year hiatus and more importantly, under Pekerman’s tenure, they had done so playing enterprising and attacking football, spearheaded by one of European footballs most formidable goal scorers. Former Colombia midfielder and national icon, Carlos Valderrama, claimed Pekerman’s philosophy had helped Colombian football rediscover its identity.

Thus one might assume the loss of Falcao blunts the potency of Colombia’s attack. Not quite. The injury to their star man is a major setback but this Colombia side have a plethora of attacking talent and the Monaco man’s absence may merely serve to bring new names to the fore.

Leading Los Cafeteros’s front-line are two forwards who have proved equally devastating in-front of goal for their respective clubs this term. Jackson Martinez netted 20 goals in 29 league appearances for Porto while Sevilla’s Carlos Bacca showcased his ability during his sides Europa League triumph, scoring four goals en route to the final in Turin. As a front two, Bacca and Martinez boast a combination of pace, power and devastating finishing and with plenty of ingenuity behind them, they should be provided with ample goal-scoring service.

Roaming behind this front pairing is Colombia’s playmaker, James Rodriguez. The former Porto man moved to Monaco last summer for a fee in the region of €45 million and despite enduring an indifferent start, Rodriguez eventually showcased why he is considered one of the most exciting prospects in the world. The 22-year-old has a spellbinding left-foot and is particularly adept at drifting in from the left in order to engineer space. His ingenuity and guile have led many in Colombia to dub him ‘El Nuevo Pibe’ (the ‘new’ kid), a reference to his tag as the successor of Carlos Valderrama whose nickname was ‘El Pibe’. The elegant no.10 created more chances (43) than any other player in South American qualifying and if Colombia are to progress in Brazil, this precocious talent will be at the hub of Colombia’s success.

Another attacking flair that Serie A fans will be particularly familiar with is that of Juan Cuadrado. The 26-year-old was Fiorentina’s player of the season and arguably Serie A’s best winger last term. Should he ride this wave to Brazil, he will be another potent weapon in Colombia’s attacking armoury. His frightening pace and direct dribbling adds another dimension to Pekerman’s attack and his threat will also help alleviate some of the pressure that will burden Rodriguez’s young shoulders.

However if the Colombians are to truly demonstrate there is life after Falcao, the most important man in achieving this will be their pioneering tactician. Pekerman has rejuvenated Colombia, allowing them to play with a freedom and flexibility which makes them one of the most aesthetically exciting sides in Brazil. The 64-year-old coach has managed to accommodate a host of high calibre attacking players into a system that suits their energetic and bold attacking style. The tempo of their play often oscillates however their transition from defence to attack can be devastating. Pekerman facilitates this by giving Cuadrado and Rodriguez the licence to drift and interchange, allowing his adventurous full-backs – most likely Pablo Armero and Camilo Zuniga – to flow forward.

While the 4-2-2-2 includes two defensive midfielders, their role is unorthodox and the Argentinian coach doesn’t restrict them to guarding the defence and breaking up play. In fact their distribution from deep is crucial to Colombia’s quick transition in attack and they are also encouraged to carry the ball forward when springing counter-attacks, a duty that is suited to Inter’s Fredy Guarin in particular. The Colombians blend of diverse qualities is their biggest strength and Pekerman has demonstrated that he is able to harness this aforementioned attacking talent.

Los Cafeteros certainly have defensive frailties and having lost their first choice centre-back Luis Perea to injury, both Cristian Zapata and Mario Yepes are liable to being exposed, especially given the attacking nature of their full-backs. However Colombia’s best form of defence is undoubtedly attack and fortunately for Pekerman, the options at his disposal should compensate for the loss of his star striker Falcao. As the Colombia boss told reporters himself:

“We would have liked Falcao here but let’s not talk about it anymore, let’s focus on the potential of the other players. We are only concentrating on how we can hurt Greece.”

It will be these ‘other players’ who, come Saturday afternoon and their opening Group Game against Greece, have the potential and ample talent to make Radamel Falcao’s injury seem like a distant and trivial setback.

By Luca Hodges-Ramon – @LH_Ramon25

My Debut Season on Twitter

Before the World Cup kicks off in Brazil I want to share My Debut Season on Twitter, a review of the football year that has just been. I initially joined the social media site in August 2013 before setting up my blog with its own Twitter account in November. Prior to joining, most of the football news in the media which came via Twitter was from footballers saying something stupid or controversial, but the thought of following players didn’t really appeal to me. From my point of view if it was a big enough story I would find it through other sources. Twitter had been recommended to me for a way to find like-minded people with similar interest. However when I joined I didn’t know what to expect.

I began by following those accounts which I was already familiar with such, as FourFourTwo (@FourFourTwo), their brilliant Stats Zone (@StatsZone), Michael Cox (@zonalmarking) and Opta (@OptaJoe). I quickly discovered a host of superb football websites such as Squawka Football (@Squawka), IBWM (@inbedwimaradona), A Football Report (@afootballreport), B/R Football (@br_football), Think Football (@Think_Football) and ESPN FC (@ESPNFC). These well-established sites offer fantastic stories & reports from across the football world. One feature of Twitter which I was sceptical of, but thought was interesting, was being able to interact with people you wouldn’t usually be able to, such as Paul Watson (@paul_c_watson), author of the incredible Up Pohnpei, which I would thoroughly recommend, and have done a number of times on Twitter. By following Paul on Twitter I was able to find out about the latest on the team in the book as well as let him know how much I enjoyed his book.

Through Twitter, I joined the Prediction League via You Know The Score (@predicthefootie), making my way up League 4 before gaining promotion and finish the season as League 3 Champion. For anyone who likes guessing the outcome of the weekend’s Premier League fixture it is a simple way to pit your wits against others. I hope to be competing with as many of you as possible next season. As well as finishing the season as League 3 champion I also picked up other silverware thanks to Twitter competitions, in the form of Issue 3 of The Football Pink (@TheFootballPink) and, via Of Pitch + Page (@OfPitchandPage), The Boy in Brazil by Seth Burkett (@burkett86).
As I continued the Twitter season I was on the voting panel (anyone can vote) for the Football Blogging Awards (@TheFBAs), unfortunately none of my initial selections won but it was another great way to discover more football writers. By reading more content it persuaded me to write myself. Two of the articles which directly gave me the inspiration and confidence to were Football Charlie (@Footballcharlie), Blogging: it still matters and putnielsingoal (@putnielsingoal) Twelve ways to be better. For aspiring writers Twitter is a great way to get your thoughts and opinions out there. A number of sites accept articles for submission. My first article was picked up and published by The 4th Official (@_4thOfficial) and The False Nine (@The_False_Nine). Other sites that have been kind enough to offer a platform to me have been Sportsbant.com (@sportsbant), Natter Football (@NatterFootball), MatchDay App (@MatchDayApp) and iLovethissport.com (@Lovethissport). The latter also reviews and rates articles, which I have found invaluable to improving my writing. Anyone thinking about writing or getting their voice to a wider audience should use these sites for the fantastic support they offer.

Having seen my first to article published I decided to set up my own blog. Even though I was getting my work out there via other sites I thought it was the best way to share my thoughts with as many people as possible. Having already been on Twitter since August I had got to know some wonderful football bloggers and websites. When I started promoting the new blog I was humbled by the support of these people. All the comments and feedback on all the articles have made the hard work all worthwhile. I have also enjoyed reading and sharing other people’s writing and hopefully also getting their work to a wider audience.

To recap this season, I have written about Joe Hart’s problems at Manchester City and how he could take inspiration from Wojciech Szczęsny, reminisced on My First World Cup Memories, ranked the Premier League owners (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 & Part 4), compared the similarities of Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao, hailed ex-Reading skipper Jobi McAnuff, explored who the neutral was rooting for in the title race and analysed whether Van Gaal would fit in with the class of 92. Some of the articles have been easier to write than others, especially with the amount of research some subjects require but I hope everyone has enjoyed my offerings. I have thorough enjoyed my debut season on Twitter and to avoid the dreaded second season syndrome I already have ideas for next year and hope you will continue to read.

There are so many people to thank for their help supporting the blog, as well as those who I have already mentioned, if you don’t follow them already I suggest you do immediately:-

Football Pink (@TheFootballPink) – brilliant monthly magazine covering almost every aspect of football, as well as regular articles on the website.

Putnielsingoal (@Putnielsingoal) – a true football hipster, already mentioned once but he’s that good

Christopher Lash (@rightbankwarsaw) – blogging on Polish football, past and present, and a Reading fan.

The Footy Guy (@_FootyGuy) – one of the most entertaining, and genuinely amusing bloggers.

Pete Spencer (@irishpete67) – Liverpool fan, writing on the historical events in football, whose recent World Cup stories are most insightful.

John Townsend (@jontownsend3) – another Liverpool fan, writes about his club and new coaching methods among other things for the brilliant These Football Times (@thesefootytimes)

Rob Canavan (@whitesfan) – member of excellent The Final Third (@TheFinal_Third) podcast

Proven Quality (@provenquality) – as the name suggests a regular source of quality football writing

Laura Jones (@YICETOR) – former FBA finalist; her very personal account of the Hillsborough disaster is probably one of the best articles I’ve read this year