(Over the next month or so, we’re going to be doing previews for all 32 teams participating in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Yes, all 32 teams. We’ll make you laugh, cry, get mad and perhaps question why you read us in the first place. We hope you enjoy the product nonetheless)
The big news with Colombia has been the continued status of their star man Radamel Falcao, who’s valiantly trying to make it to a high enough fitness to participate in the World Cup. Just how close he can be to 100% health is the key question surrounding an intriguing Colombia side who were exciting and really good in qualifying out of South America. They’re making their first appearance in the World Cup in 16 years behind a style of play very similar to a hybrid between Chile and what we saw from Brazil in the 2013 Confederations Cup under their manager Jose Pekerman. For a country that has had issues in the past with stability in the coaching ranks and cultivating a style of play, Pekerman was exactly the man for the job. All one needs to see of what Pekerman’s philosophies are can look to Argentina’s run in the 2006 World Cup, where his side played free flowing football and came within a penalty shootout of reaching the semi-finals.
Pekerman has tinkered with formations in the midfield and attack, with a 4-4-2/4-2-2-2 to utilize their counter attacking exploits and the playmaking abilities of James Rodriguez (here’s a very good piece on the formations in much more detail). The health of Radamel Falcao looms large for Colombia, but even still should have enough to compensate with the likes of Martinez and Gutierrez, who was very good in the qualifying stages.
Goalkeepers: David Ospina (Nice), Faryd Mondragon (Deportivo Cali), Camilo Vargas (Independiente Santa Fe)
Defenders: Mario Yepes (Milan), Cristián Zapata (Milan), Pablo Armero (West Ham United), Camilo Zúñiga (Napoli), Aquivaldo Mosquera (America, Mexico), Santiago Arias (PSV Eindhoven), Luis Amaranto Perea (Cruz Azul), Éder Álvarez Balanta (River Plate), Carlos Valdés (San Lorenzo)
Midfielders: Fredy Guarín (Internazionale), Juan Cuadrado (Fiorentina), Victor Ibarbo (Cagliari), James Rodríguez (Monaco), Abel Aguilar (Toulouse), Juan Fernando Quintero (Porto), Carlos Sánchez (Elche), Macnelly Torres (Al Shabab), Aldo Leão Ramirez (Morelia), Edwin Valencia (Fluminense), Alexander Mejía (Atletico Nacional), Elkin Soto (Mainz)
Forwards: Radamel Falcao (Monaco), Luis Fernando Muriel (Udinese), Jackson Martínez (Porto), Carlos Bacca (Sevilla), Adrián Ramos (Hertha Berlin), Teofilo Gutiérrez (River Plate)
Just 22 years old, James Rodriguez is already one of the world’s most promising playmakers. He created 97 total chances in Ligue 1 with Monaco, which was best ahead of Mathieu Valbuena. He’s the creative force behind Colombia’s style of play, someone who can thread a needle in a haystack. He’s even been compared to Colombia’s most transcendent player Carlos Valderrama (minus the hair of course). He’s an attacking midfielder who can play on the left hand side or play as the #10 in a 4-2-3-1, which Colombia have used during qualifying. Assuming Falcao won’t be able to play, Martinez seems like the most suitable replacement for Falcao. Martinez had a very solid season for Porto and really could have a solid tournament off the back of Rodriguez pulling the strings. For only a 22 year old, Colombia will depend heavily on the genius of his play.
Very similar to Chile is how Colombia use their fullbacks. The likes of Zuniga and Armero get up the width of the pitch very quickly. Armero has had loads of experiences being able to play as a wingback with his time in the Serie A with Udinese when they’ve used 3-5-2 formations in the past. Armero/Zuniga are also very key with their ability to hit crosses and make through passes on the counter attack. The obvious draw back similar to Chile is being susceptible at the back and though Colombia don’t play with 3 at the back like their Chile counterparts, Colombia’s CB’s aren’t the most inspiring collection you’ll see. However that’s mitigated somewhat with the collection of defensive midfielders they have, with Guarin/Sanchez/Aguillar. They won’t be just restricted to protecting the back 4 as Sam illustrated, with their outlet passing being key to unlocking the athletic tempo that Colombia play with.
Perhaps the embodiment of the tactical flexibility for Colombia is Juan Cuadrado from Italian side Fiorentina. He is lightning quick who can virtually play any position on the right hand side, up front as a forward or even in a back 4 as either a wingback or a traditional right back. He’s also capable of playing in the defensive midfield as well if the situation arises. Where Rodriguez is the team’s best playmaker and orchestrator, Cuadrado would arguably be Colombia’s best dribbling artist and one on one specialist along the flanks, capable of solo runs. He truly doesn’t have a position that can be written in stones, a bit similar to Giovanni Dos Santos’ situation with Mexico. The difference between the two is Cuadrado fits in more due to him being very comfortable on the right hand side with his dribbling and pace across from Rodriguez while Mexico are a bit more rigid with how Giovanni Dos Santos can fit in a possible 3-5-2.
Tactical flexibility might be the best description of the Colombia National side, who also combine that with athleticism and the right amount of flair needed. Whether it be a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-2 or a 4-2-2-2, Colombia are very malleable in how their shape is on the field. Expect their full backs to act as wingers and expect the defensive midfield to plug the holes left behind when play is on the other end. They have the playmaking brilliance of Rodriguez, the chaos dribbling with Cuadrado and a suitable replacement as the main striker in Martinez. Falcao’s the main subplot for the mainstream with his continued monitoring with his knee, but going past that is a pace setting squad who can run many teams ragged, have the right amount of technical brilliance to make it past the group stage and give whoever they face from Group D major headaches.