With the European Championships in full swing the best players on the continent are performing on the biggest stage for national glory. As well as the fans the stadiums will be full of scouts looking for their club’s next signing. While some will be looking for an unknown quantity or the next hot prospect Real Madrid will be looking for their next Galactico.
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.
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