After narrowly missing out on the last three editions of the World Cup, Colombia was able to successfully navigate CONMEBOL qualifying to earn a trip to Brazil next summer. The berth was the reward after four years of progress.
Led by superstar striker Radamel Falcao and an experienced back line, the Cafeteros finished second in the highly competitive nine-team group with 30 points from 16 matches. They allowed the fewest goals (13) and fell just two points shy of Argentina for the top spot.
Not only did the resurgence allow Colombia to climb the FIFA rankings, where it currently sits inside the top five in the world, but the strong form should have also helped build confidence looking toward the World Cup—the sport's marquee international showcase.
In November, the Cafeteros are scheduled for a couple measuring-stick friendlies. Away matches against Belgium and the Netherlands, fellow Top 10 teams, should allow Colombia to see where it stands and help manager Jose Pekerman start forming the World Cup roster.
Without further ado, let's check out some of the latest news involving the Colombian national team and make some early projections. Keep checking back in the coming months for news updates as the World Cup approaches.
Being in Pot 1 for the World Cup draw is a major advantage. Colombia earned the opportunity to headline a group due to its strong play in recent years, which means the Cafeteros get to avoid many of the sport's superpowers in the opening stage.
FIFA announced seven of the eight entries into Pot 1 have been secured, with Uruguay getting the final one if it wins a playoff with Jordan. Colombia joins Brazil, Spain and Germany in the star-studded group of contenders:
The distribution of teams in Pot 1 for the World Cup Final Draw on 6 December is as follows: Brazil, together with Spain, Germany, Argentina, Colombia, Belgium and Switzerland are definitely in Pot 1. If Uruguay win the intercontinental play-off against Jordan, they will also go into the first pot. However, if Jordan win, the decimal points difference between the Netherlands (1135.95) and Italy (1135.61) will see the Dutch take the last place in Pot 1.
Avoiding potential group-stage meetings with the likes of Brazil and Spain—which met in this year's Confederations Cup final—is an immediate boost to Colombian hopes of making a deep run. It illustrates the impact of getting into Pot 1.
Looking ahead, Colombia can now hope for some luck in the draw, which is slated for early December. Given the overall strength of their squad, the Cafeteros will likely be expected to advance regardless of the outcome, but a good draw could make their journey to the knockout rounds a lot easier.
Jose Pekerman will need to use every opportunity between now and next summer to figure out his best starting lineup. Players like Fredy Guarin and Cristian Zapata have often displayed good form in Europe and could be major assets in Brazil but need to prove it for Colombia in the coming months.
Other decisions for him to ponder include which striker to start alongside Radamel Falcao and whether to keep the veteran center-back duo of Mario Yepes and Luis Perea together to finish the cycle. So the work is not done, even though qualification is secure.
With that in mind, here's an early projection for the starting XI next summer, followed by other players who will probably come under consideration.
Projected Starting Lineup
GK: David Ospina
DF: Juan Zuniga
DF: Mario Yepes
DF: Luis Perea
DF: Pablo Armero
MF: Juan Quintero
MF: Carlos Sanchez
MF: Fredy Guarin
MF: James Rodriguez
ST: Radamel Falcao
ST: Teofilo Gutierrez
Other Likely Squad Members
GK: Camilo Vargas
DF: Stefan Medina, Cristian Zapata, Aquivaldo Mosquera
MF: Abel Aguilar, Juan Cuadrado, Macnelly Torres
FW: Jackson Martinez, Carlos Quintero
More Possible Squad Members
GK: Faryd Mondragon
DF: Santiago Arias, Gilberto García, Hector Quinones, Carlos Valdes, Eder Balanta
MF: Elkin Soto, Aldo Ramirez, Edwin Valencia, Alexander Mejia, Juan Quintero
FW: Dorlan Pabon, Carlos Bacca, Luis Muriel