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James Rodriguez will use his past Porto relationship with Falcao, Guarin and Martinez against Argentina
With more at stake in this match, a win for the Colombians will surely keep them ranked amongst the top seven teams in the world, as the FIFA rankings will determine seed placement for the upcoming World Cup.
A recent loss at Venezuela was probably the right wake-up call prior to facing Argentina. Despite losing 1-0 to the Venezuelans in the last qualifier match, Colombia was in full attack mode and was not necessarily outplayed but just had one of those games where the ball would not go into the net.
With more to play for on Friday, Colombia is putting forth a more aggressive lineup that features players with more European experience to match up with the Argentines, who also play in Europe on a weekly basis.
Defensively, Colombia will feature the core defensive unit of David Ospina (OGC Nice) in goal and captain Mario Yepes (AC Milan), Camilo Zuniga and Pablo Armero (Udinese) as the regular defenders.
After an impressive display of club form, Pekerman will go with Yepes’ club teammate Cristian Zapata as his center-back partner instead of the usual Carlos Valdes (Sante Fe). For reasons that can only be answered behind closed doors, Zapata has hardly featured for Colombia over the past two years, so Friday’s game will be one of those games where it is essential for Zapata to shine and play mistake-free football.
Colombia’s midfield will also be more European-based, but with previously proven chemistry.
Fredy Guarin (Inter Milan) will play in place of Macnelly Torres (Atletico Nacional) as the secondary playmaker. With his strong shot from distance, Guarin is a threat with long free kicks and his ability to shoot from distance, which brings a level of unpredictability to Colombia’s attack.
Similar to Banega, Colombia will also be without defensive midfielder Edwin Valencia (Fluminese) due to card accumulation. Fan favorite Carlos Sanchez (Valenciennes) will serve as the link between the defense and attack, with regular box-to-box midfielder Abel Aguilar (Deportivo La Coruña) serving in the “Gilberto Silva” role and providing support defensively and supporting the attack in a deeper role.
Leading the midfield attack, James Rodriguez (AS Monaco) will be looking forward to pairing up with former Porto teammates Guarin, Radamel Falcao (who will also be a future teammate at Monaco) and Jackson Martinez (FC Porto). This synergy that James has been able to establish in the past and present at the club/international level could be an advantage that Colombia will have over many teams for the remaining South American qualifiers.
While Teófilo Gutiérrez (Cruz Azul) has been the regular and proven striking partner to Falcao, Pekerman will be going with Martinez, who may not be as strong in the second striker role that Gutiérrez has excelled at.
Given that two of Argentina’s defenders (Rojo and Garay) also play in Portugal at the club level, Martinez has an advantage over Gutiérrez due to playing against both defenders more recently. His familiarity with both defenders, coupled with his synergy with James at Porto this season, make Pekerman’s decision reasonable.
Needless to say, if things do not work out in Colombia’s favor early on, Pekerman has players such as Juan Cuadrado (Fiorentina) for additional pace; Gutiérrez, Luis Muriel (Udinese) or Carlos Bacca (Club Brugge) to drop back in a second striker role; and Torres or Aldo Ramirez (Morelia) for possession play at his disposal.