Coming off the back of an impressive World Cup in Brazil, Colombia will be regarded as the tournament’s dark horses by many. However, despite having a squad packed to the gills with top-class talent, the onus will be on Los Cafeteros boss Jose Pekerman to smooth over the issues that somewhat held them back throughout qualifying.
Their record against the upper echelons of CONMEBOL sides was shady at best and utterly shambolic at worst, and with concerns surrounding how Radamel Falcao will cope with a congested fixture list, the Colombian attack could very well be reliant on James Rodriguez throughout the tournament.
However, with the aforementioned Falcao returning to goal-scoring form following two fruitless seasons in the Premier League, and Davinson Sanchez and Yerry Mina being on hand to reinforce the 2014 quarter finalists’ defence, Colombia could be the surprise package of the 2018 World Cup finals.
How They Qualified
Competing in a tough qualifying group, whereby only the top four (out of 10) teams earned automatic qualification to the group stages, Colombia’s qualifying campaign was a rather inconsistent affair at best.
Los Cafeteros endured a run of mixed fortune throughout the qualifiers, most notably struggling against the trio of CONMEBOL nations that had previously won the World Cup, with a shoddy record seeing them take only two points from six games against Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina.
However, their record against the other six teams was far more befitting of their reputation, claiming seven wins and four draws against teams outside the top three, with their solitary loss coming against Paraguay on the penultimate qualifying match day, courtesy of two last minute goals from Oscar Cardozo and Arnaldo Sanabria.
As expected, James Rodriguez was their highest scoring player in qualifying with six goals, with Edwin Cardona and Carlos Bacca notching three a piece and Monaco’s Radamel Falcao only scoring twice.
Group Stage Games
Image by Daniel Swales
Colombia will be part of Group H, featuring alongside Poland, Senegal and Japan, and will play their opening fixture against Japan in Mordovia Arena on June 19.
Having being drawn into a particularly competitive group, whereby it seems as though any of the four teams could secure passage to the last 16, Colombia should be confident of replicating their form from Brazil 2014 and topping their group.
However, nothing should be taken for granted in Group H, with Poland harbouring a side featuring the likes of Bundesliga top scorer Robert Lewnadowski and highly rated Napoli midfielder Piotr Zielinski. Elsewhere, Senegal have the electric Sadio Mane and defensive expertise of Kalidou Koulibaly at their disposal and Japan will be keen to unleash Shinji Kagawa and Makoto Hasebe on the world.
Los Cafeteros have been drawn into a tough group, and so will need to be on top of their game if they are to avoid an early elimination.
Possible Route to the Final
Should Colombia make it out of their highly competitive group, they will be drawn against a member of Group G, and with Belgium and England heavily tipped to edge out Tunisia and first timers Panama, it could be a big ask for Jose Pekerman’s men to make it to the last eight as they did four years ago.
A matchup against England would be most favourable for the South Americans, with the Three Lions having made a name for themselves as serial flops at major competitions over the past decade.
Should Colombia top their group and make it beyond Group G’s runner-up it is highly likely that Germany will be waiting for them in the quarter finals, thereby all but ensuring a repeat of 2014, seeing them exit the competition at the last eight.
Goalkeepers: David Ospina (Arsenal), Camilo Vargas (Deportivo Cali), José Fernando Cuadrado (Once Caldas)
Defenders: Cristián Zapata (AC Milan), Óscar Murillo (Pachuca), Santiago Arias (PSV Eindhoven), Yerry Mina (Barcelona), Johan Mojica (Girona), Frank Fabra (Boca Juniors), Davinson Sanchez (Tottenham)
Midfielders: Wílmar Barrios (Boca Juniors), Carlos Sánchez (Espanyol), Abel Aguilar (Deportivo Cali), James Rodríguez (Bayern Munich), Juan Cuadrado (Juventus), Mateus Uribe (América), Jefferson Lerma (Levante), Juan Fernando Quintero (River Plate)
Forwards: Carlos Bacca (Villarreal), Radamel Falcao (Monaco), Luis Muriel (Sevilla), Miguel Borja (Palmeiras), José Izquierdo (Brighton)
(4-2-3-1) David Ospina; Santiago Arias, Davinson Sanchez, Yerry Mina, Frank Fabra; Carlos Sanchez, Abel Aguilar; Juan Cuadrado, James Rodriguez, Carlos Bacca, Radamel Falcao
Colombia could be one of the tournaments dark horses, with a squad packed full of quality in every department, Los Cafeteros have the potential to go far. With Jose Pekerman’s contract with Colombia expiring in July, El Profe will be keen to see his tenure with the Colombian national side end with a bang as opposed to a whimper.
While Poland and Senegal won’t roll over for Colombia they should have just enough attacking flair to come out on top against the Group H duo. Meanwhile Akira Nishino’s Japan side shouldn’t provide too much of a challenge for a team of such top class talent.
A match up against Belgium could well end their World Cup fairy tale early, although a much preferred pairing with England in the last 16 would ostensibly see them through to the quarter finals.
However, coming up against reigning champions Germany in the quarters would almost certainly seal Los Cafeteros’ fate, with Colombia having failed to win against any of the three teams that finished above them in the qualifying rounds.