Fresh from qualifying for the World Cup finals in Brazil, Belgium and Colombia go head-to-head on Thursday as preparations for next year’s showcase get underway.
The pair have already guaranteed their places for the 2014 tournament in South America, and face each other at the Stade Roi Baudouin in Brussels.
Belgium will appear in the competition for the first time in 12 years after finishing nine points clear at the top of their group.
Colombia last participated in France in 1998, and will attempt to become the first team to beat Marc Wilmots’ men this year.
Both have enjoyed a meteoric rise in the FIFA rankings, and ahead of this week’s friendly, we look at just some of the key battles that could decide the fixture.
The £60 million-rated forward has been the subject of much speculation despite only signing for the Ligue 1 side in the summer, and has nine league goals to his name this term.
Standing in his way on Thursday will be Belgian veteran Daniel van Buyten, who is set to win cap number 76 in the absence of skipper Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen, who is a major doubt.
The Bayern Munich centre-back will need to call on all of his experience to combat the threat of Falcao, and it could turn out to be a busy evening for the 35-year-old.
Though Fredy Guarin is more than capable on the right-side of midfield, the Inter Milan star is expected to take up a more central role on Thursday, making a head-to-head with Mousa Dembele likely.
Dembele has been an ever-present in the Premier League for Tottenham Hotspur this season and is expected to line up for his country in what would be his 10th appearance of 2013.
Guarin, however, will have other ideas, and the former Porto man will use all of his resources to make a positive impact.
It remains to be seen how Belgium’s back four will line up on Thursday, but with Thomas Vermaelen and Vincent Kompany missing, Marc Wilmots could turn to Jan Vertonghen.
The Tottenham Hotspur defender has filled in at left-back for his club in the absence of Danny Rose, but could be switched to his preferred position of centre-half against Colombia.
Waiting for him in the visitor’s attack will be Jackson Martinez—the highly-rated Porto forward who is attracting the attention of some of Europe’s top sides.
According to Metro, the 27-year-old has already hinted he may leave Portugal next summer, and the watching Jose Mourinho may well end up with a new name on his wish list.
AC Milan defender Cristian Zapata may be used to dealing with the cream of Serie A, but he’ll need to handle one of the Premier League’s hottest talents on Thursday.
His battle with Romelu Lukaku to become Belgium’s number one striker is a fascinating one, and he got his nose in front by winning the D’Afrique Trophy for players with African origins recently, as per The Daily Mail.
But it will be his on-field achievements that determine the outcome ahead of next summer’s World Cup, and a good shift against Zapata would give the 22-year-old the edge.
In Eden Hazard, Belgium possess one of the most technically gifted players in Europe, and his contribution to his country’s cause could be critical in Brazil next summer.
But in Thursday’s friendly, he will have to get past the player known in Colombia as “the rock” if he is to have any real influence on the final score at the Stade Roi Baudouin.
Carlos Sanchez’s tough-tackling reputation almost earned him a move to the Premier League with West Ham United, and he is now on the books of La Liga outfit Elche.
The 27-year-old will be relishing the challenge posed by Hazard, and their encounter in Brussels could turn out to be one of the most pivotal.