5 Reasons Why Colombia Have Shone at the 2014 FIFA World Cup
Here Bleacher Report analyses why this team has succeeded where others have failed. The answer lies as much in a new footballing culture as it does in its star players.
1. Coach Jose Pekerman's Change of Colombian Footballing Culture
Coach Jose Pekerman has turned Colombia into a force in the international game. Before his arrival, Colombia had failed to qualify for the previous three World Cups. They had talented players, but they were unable to gel.
Pekerman ensured that the team always came before individuals. But in so doing, he has also fostered an attacking-football philosophy that allows the team’s creative stars, James Rodriguez and Juan Guillermo Cuadrado, to flourish.
Pekerman has changed the culture of the Colombian team. The generation of the 1990s boasted exuberant but ill-disciplined players. The perfect case in point was Faustino Asprilla, who should have been a star of the 1998 World Cup, but was sent home for publicly criticising coach Hernan Dario Gomez and the team’s style of play.
Los Cafeteros are now a much more professional unit, whose play combines pragmatism with the freedom to play creatively. Pekerman has been responsible for instilling this mentality, which has underpinned Colombia's rise in world football.
2. Colombian Footballers Play in Europe and Form Key Partnerships There
Colombia’s current generation of players have benefitted greatly from exposure to pressurised European football. Although the pride remains, playing for the national team is no longer the only time many of these players are in the international limelight.
As centre-back Carlos Valdes noted in the press conference on Tuesday: "This generation has marked a change in Colombian football. Today the majority of the players are playing overseas, and without doubt that has made a big difference."
Experience in Spain, Italy, France and Portugal and in some cases the Europa League and Champions League has served Colombia’s players very well. But playing in Europe has not prevented players from forging partnerships with other national-team colleagues. Fredy Guarin, James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao all played together at Porto.
Now that they have all moved on, Rodriguez and Falcao have been replaced at Porto by Juan Fernando Quintero and Jackson Martinez. And until Falcao’s severe injury in January, he and Rodriguez were combining together at AS Monaco.
In defence, where combinations are equally important, centre-backs Mario Alberto Yepes and Cristian Zapata know each other well from time shared at AC Milan, while full-backs Juan Camilo Zuniga and Pablo Armero are both at Napoli.
European football has helped the players to develop and allowed them to forge partnerships that can be utilised by the national side.
3. Colombia's Stars Have Shone
Far from being fazed by the world stage, Colombia's big players have turned up. James Rodriguez has stolen the limelight with five strikes, including that goal against Uruguay in the Maracana, while Juan Guillermo Cuadrado has more assists than any other player in the tournament—four.
In defence, commanding centre-back Mario Alberto Yepes has belied his 38 years and played with power and assurance, leading a back line that has only been breached twice. Without Falcao, their performances have been even more important in ensuring Colombia's success.
4. Colombia's Work Rate and Collective Spirit
Collective spirit has underscored Colombia’s progress through the World Cup. Nowhere is this best illustrated than up front, where despite the absence of Radamel Falcao, Colombia have continued to opt for the workhorse Teofilo Gutierrez as the number one striker, ahead of Porto’s Jackson Martinez, Sevilla’s Carlos Bacca and Dortmund-bound Adrian Ramos.
Speaking to Colombia’s Bluradio after the 2-0 victory over Uruguay, goalkeeper David Ospina was quick to highlight this key point: "As a unit, the team performed very well.”
Colombia has a happy camp without egos. The players play for each other and recognise that they are secondary to the overall performance of the team.
Work rate and collective spirit have ensured that a talented Colombian side have fulfilled expectations at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
5. Jose Perkerman's Tactics
Tactically, Pekerman is a wily operator. He has switched between a 4-2-2-2 and a 4-2-3-1. In both systems, Pekerman’s insistence on two holding midfielders, who in this World Cup have been Carlos Sanchez and Abel Aguilar, has provided the base from which his team can attack with pace.
Rodriguez, Cuadrado and the two full-backs, Juan Camilo Zuniga and Pablo Armero, are licensed to go forward, safe in the knowledge that Aguilar and Sanchez can cover for them at the back.
Speaking to the press ahead of the match with Brazil, third-choice goalkeeper Camilo Vargas noted, as per Fox News Latino that “Pekerman has understood the idiosyncrasies of our football."
This has certainly been reflected in the way Pekerman has set his team up. He has played to the team's strengths and ironed out weaknesses. The biggest test of his strategies will be against Brazil, but so far, Pekerman has passed them with distinction.