Colombia: Injury-Hit and Struggling to Gel Ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup

Daniel Rey@@ReyDanielMFeatured ColumnistJune 14, 2014

A tearful Radamel Falcao Garcia with coach Jose Perkerman at the press conference which confirmed his absence from the 2014 FIFA World Cup
A tearful Radamel Falcao Garcia with coach Jose Perkerman at the press conference which confirmed his absence from the 2014 FIFA World CupAssociated Press

Colombia, so widely tipped to be "dark horses" at the World Cup in Brazil that the term is hardly applicable any more, are stuttering as they approach the tournament.

Injuries to first-choice players have been debilitating, but the team is struggling to gel and unable to find the X-factor that made them so strong in 2012 and 2013. 

The loss of Radamel Falcao Garcia to injury is an enormous blow to Colombia, but the effect will not be so much on the team's finishing but on their approach play.

Although Falcao is an excellent No. 9, his movement, neat touches and links with players such as James Rodriguez and Juan Guillermo Cuadrado will be most missed.

Carlos Bacca and Teofilo Gutierrez, who are likely to start against Greece, are both capable strikers but rely much more on service from midfield for their goals. Bacca in particular often has a heavy touch.

Aside from Falcao, Colombia have been unfortunate to lose vice-captain and defender Luis Amaranto Perea as well as midfielder Edwin Valencia to injuries. Perea will be missed for his leadership qualities, but Fluminense's Valencia is a crucial link between defence and attack, able to kick-start counter-attacks with good passing.

Furthermore, a knock to Aldo Leao Ramirez has left Colombia very short of passing midfielders in front of the back four. For a side who also rely on two of these centrocampistas to cover for the rampaging runs of their fullbacks, this is a severe blow to the team's chemistry.

Such is the scale of the problem that coach Jose Nestor Pekerman opted to start with River Plate's rising star Eder Alvarez Balanta, usually a defender, as a holding midfielder against Jordan.

There are also concerns over the form and fitness of the two first-choice fullbacks. Napoli's Camilo Zuniga, out since October with a "mystery" injury, has looked adept going forward but slow going back.

Similarly, Pablo Armero, on loan at West Ham from Napoli, was starved of game time after making the switch in January.

With these problems, more pressure is placed on the young shoulders of starlet James Rodriguez. His level-headed approach, combined with a natural flair, should be the blueprint for Colombia at the World Cup.

Indeed, writing in the Daily Mail, Rio Ferdinand correctly assessed Rodriguez's skills but also the void left by Falcao and how this will affect Rodriguez's game:

He’s that rare talent — someone who gets you off your seat. The only downside is that clubmate and Colombia co-star Radamel Falcao is out injured. Falcao would have created the space for Rodriguez to thrive. But then the absence of Falcao is perhaps Rodriguez’s chance to take centre stage.

All is not well then, for Los Cafeteros, but they are hardly the only team struggling as they prepare for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

They are talented, but Colombia are a confidence team and need to win their first match at the tournament to avoid coming under significant pressure.

As a result, it is imperative that Pekerman has ironed out the team's problems before they take on Greece in Belo Horizonte on Saturday.