Colombia vs. Greece: Key Selection Decisions for Jose Pekerman

Nick Dorrington@@chewingthecocaSpecial to Bleacher ReportJune 13, 2014

Colombia vs. Greece: Key Selection Decisions for Jose Pekerman

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    Victor R. Caivano/Associated Press

    Jose Pekerman looks to have a pretty clear picture of his starting XI for Colombia’s 2014 World Cup opener against Greece on Saturday, but there are still a few positions that could be up for grabs.

    As per El Tiempo (in Spanish), Pekerman is expected to stick with his tried-and-tested 4-2-2-2 formation, despite experimenting with a 4-3-2-1 in the recent 3-0 friendly win over Jordan.

    The majority of the players pick themselves due to good past performance and their knowledge of the system. There are, however, question marks over who will replace Luis Amaranto Perea and Radamel Falcao Garcia, both of whom were forced to pull out of the squad due to injury.

    Here are Pekerman’s key selection decisions ahead of Colombia’s Group C fixture against Greece.

Full-Back Options

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    Fernando Vergara/Associated Press

    Juan Zuniga and Pablo Armero are highly likely to start against Greece, but Pekerman may consider employing a more defensive-minded player in one of the two full-back positions. Greece play a 4-3-3 formation, with their wide forwards providing most of their attacking threat.

    In the recent 2-2 friendly draw with Senegal, Colombia’s opponents were regularly able to work good positions down Zuniga’s side of the pitch. While he is competent when faced up by an opponent—staying on his feet and timing his tackles well—Zuniga is less impressive when asked to track off-ball runs in behind him.

    Armero provides plenty of attacking thrust, but he is also susceptible to occasional lapses in concentration.

    Pekerman’s options are slightly limited in this regard, as backup right-back Santiago Arias is also better going forward than he is in defence. The Argentinian coach would have to move a centre-back into one of the full-back positions if he wanted to shore up his defence, with Cristian Zapata and Eder Alvarez Balanta the most likely choices.

    It remains improbable that Pekerman will elect to make a change of this nature for Colombia’s opener, but do not be surprised if he uses Zapata or Balanta at full-back later in the group stage, or, if Colombia make it through, against tougher opposition in the knockout rounds.

Carlos Valdes or Cristian Zapata

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    Luis Amaranto Perea and Mario Yepes were Colombia’s most-regular centre-back partnership during the qualifying process, but Perea’s absence through injury has opened up a spot in the starting XI.

    Carlos Valdes started alongside Yepes in the first half of Colombia’s recent 2-2 draw with Senegal, while it was Cristian Zapata who was paired with the experienced defender in the subsequent 3-0 win over Jordan.

    Valdes started over twice the number of matches Zapata did during the qualification process and has been more impressive in Colombia’s recent friendlies. Additionally, he is more comfortable with the ball at his feet—a valuable attribute in a Pekerman side.

    Yepes is certain to start, and Valdes currently looks his most likely partner.

Carlos Bacca or Jackson Martinez

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    That Falcao is not a part of the squad is clearly a big blow for Colombia, but in truth they are better positioned to cover for his absence than they might have been had, for instance, James Rodriguez picked up a similarly severe injury.

    Teofilo Gutierrez was Falcao’s regular partner in attack during the qualifiers and is a near-guaranteed starter against Greece, while the two strikers vying for a place alongside him both enjoyed prolific seasons at club level. Carlos Bacca scored 21 goals in all competitions for Sevilla, while Jackson Martinez notched 28 for FC Porto.

    Bacca does, however, have one inherent advantage over Martinez. He and Gutierrez have a pre-existing relationship from their, admittedly brief, time together at Junior de Barranquilla and displayed a good understanding in the draw against Senegal.

    Bacca nodded down for Gutierrez to prod home the opening goal and then scored the second himself, controlling Victor Ibarbo’s pull-back before firing high into the back of the net. They worked well in tandem, with Gutierrez dropping off the front to link with midfield, while Bacca consistently sought opportunities to burst in behind the Senegal defence.

    Martinez was lively during his second-half cameo, moving well and acting as a useful focal point with his back to goal. But that is unlikely to have been enough to dislodge Bacca from the starting XI.