Update from Thursday, May 22
Jose Pekerman cut three players from Colombia's 30-man World Cup squad on Thursday, but Radamel Falcao remains among the surviving 27 names.
The following trio were freed up for the summer, per Sky Sports:
|Macnelly Torres||Al Shabab|
After qualifying for the World Cup for the first time since 1998, Colombia will gear up for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil with mighty expectations.
However, Jose Pekerman and his squad could potentially face a massive hurdle. The year began in disappointing fashion for Los Cafeteros as they lost world-class striker Radamel Falcao to a ruptured ACL. Although the doctor who performed Falcao's surgery is optimistic he can be back in time for the World Cup, it's unlikely he'd be the same productive player.
What's more, Pekerman predicted Falcao would be the "best player" at the World Cup just two months before his devastating injury, per ESPN FC:
I think Falcao will be the best player at the World Cup. He has great qualities and a team that supports him at all times. He is smart and very technical and that is why he is one of the best centre-forwards in the world. I am proud to be the coach of a team which has Falcao. He is a unique player and any coach would want to have him in their team.
Despite that news and setback, Falcao was picked for the preliminary roster in a surprising move given the lack of playing time has seen in the past year.
Questions surrounding Falcao aside, it's not all bad news for Colombia. They drew a favorable group that features Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan. Therefore, with or without Falcao in the lineup, Colombia will have an excellent shot to advance to the knockout stage.
With Pekerman announcing his 30-man preliminary roster for Brazil, let's take a look at the players who will be representing Los Cafeteros this summer and project which 11 will take the pitch first for their opening Group C showdown with Greece.
Colombia's 30-Man Preliminary Roster
|DF||Eder Álvarez Balanta|
|MF||Aldo Leao Ramirez|
|MF||Juan Fernando Quintero|
|MF||Juan Guillermo Cuadrado|
|FW||Luis Fernando Muriel|
The Daily Mirror
Projected Starting XI
|D||Cristian Zapata||AC Milan|
|D||Pablo Armero||West Ham United|
|D||Juan Camilo Zuniga||Napoli|
|M||Fredy Guarin||Inter Milan|
|M||Juan Guillermo Cuadrado||Fiorentina|
|F||Teofilo Gutierrez||River Plate|
Colombia's biggest strengths are at the top of their lineup, where Falcao and others were projected to thrill prior to the Monaco superstar's knee injury.
But even if the 28-year-old can't suit up this summer, or isn't fit enough to start, Pekerman will have some solid options to choose from, including 23-year-old forward Luis Muriel. Despite his inexperience, the Udinese striker is a must-see performer each and every time he touches the ball.
It's possible that Muriel could crack the starting XI, but veteran Jackson Martinez seems the most likely starter if Falcao is unavailable.
It remains to be seen whether Muriel will fulfill his potential in Brazil. But there's no question that he has a lofty ceiling.
Fredy Guarin and James Rodriguez highlight Colombia's midfield. Guarin currently plays for Inter Milan in Serie A and is closing in on 50 career appearances with Colombia. Meanwhile, the 22-year-old Rodriguez is one of the game's emerging young talents. Starring alongside Falcao at Monaco, Rodriguez is poised to develop into one of Colombia's biggest stars this summer.
Juan Guillermo Cuadrado is certainly worth keeping an eye on as well. As The Telegraph's Juan Arango points out, the Fiorentina star, who will be 26 this month, has taken significant steps to become a bigger factor for both club and country:
"(Cuadrado) is a key tactical figure for Fiorentina playing right midfield or right side of a three-man attack,” says Serie A pundit Giancarlo Rinaldi. The same can be said of Colombia where his style of play, mental speed and pace down the wings adds more to a team that was lacking offensive diversity as well as an option down the wings to service the forwards.
That part of his game allowed him to be able to adapt to various parts of the pitch, thus showing his evolution under Pekerman and Montella.
In goal, David Ospina appears to be the best Colombia have to offer and thus the obvious choice. The 25-year-old has made over 40 appearances for Los Cafeteros and currently stars for French club Nice.
Prior to making his senior club debut in 2007, he made a dozen appearances with the Under-20 squad.
Although there are any number of possible lineups Pekerman could send onto the pitch this June, you can expect to see a handful of familiar faces in the starting XI. Falcao's presence remains the big mystery ahead of the World Cup, but could wind up being the player that propels Colombia to the next level if healthy.
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