With the World Cup already a distant memory, continental tournament preparations are currently underway. South America's tournament, the Copa America, is only less than a year away. While Brasil looks to rebuild from the Dunga era and Argentina seeks to redeem themselves for the numerous mistakes made in the Maradona era, Colombia is trying to find an identity that has been missing for nearly ten years.
During the 2010 World Cup Qualifiers, Luis Pinto managed Colombia during 2007 and 2008. After a string of less than favorable results, Ed Lara took over, but Colombia performed even worse, finishing outside the top five in South America, thus not qualifying for the World Cup for the third time in a row.
These managers had the tendency to shuffle lineups every match, which prevented the team from establishing any sort of continuity – a trait shared by the strongest teams. Furthermore, the style of play has been a far cry from how "Los Cafeteros" played in the 80’s and 90’s - we have now turned into a team that becomes content with draws against weaker sides and bunkers down against those whom are better or equally matched on paper, thus making a meal out of every game.
Now managed by "El Bolillo," Hernan Dario Gomez (1998 World Cup Manager) is hoping to bring Colombia back to the tier of top teams in South America that is currently occupied by Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay. Between now and the Copa America, Colombia must stick with a core group of players that we can count on and expect to see in every match.
Currently, the squad is represented by goalkeeper David Ospina (Nice); defenders such as Juan Zuniga (Napoli), Cristian Zapata (Udinese), Pablo Armero (Udinese); and forwards such as Radamel Falcao (Porto) and Hugo Rodallega (Wigan). Unfortunately, the midfielders have been a nightmare with only Giovanni Moreno (Racing) being the sole bright spot during the qualifiers (2 assists and 1 goal in 3 qualifier appearances - sadly the most production out of any one player).
Absent from the national team over the past two years, Carlos Sanchez (DM; Valenciennes) and Aquivaldo Mosquera (CB; Club America) need to be brought back as they were both very productive during the first ten games of the 2010 qualifiers. Since they were omitted from the team, the results became negative for Colombia. Currently injured, Sanchez is on Gomez's radar. As for Aquivaldo, hopefully his form at Club America can be similar to what it was before his form dipped at Sevilla.
We must also move on from players such as Ivan Cordoba and Mario Yepes, who are still involved with the national team for reasons unknown to me. They are part time players for their club teams and are nowhere near the form they were in back in 2001 when Colombia won the Copa America - if they were of the caliber of Javier Zanetti or Paolo Maldini, I would be singing a different tune about them, but these dinosaurs need to call it quits at the international level. Let Zapata run the middle along with Mosquera or another young domestic defender that can benefit from the experience of international football.
Other role players included Juan Cuadrado (Udinese), Dayro Moreno (Once Caldas), Abel Aguilar (Hercules), Freddy Guarin (Porto), Adrian Ramos (Hertha Berlin), and Teo Gutierrez (Trabzonspor). From the youth ranks Jairo Palomino (Atletico Nacional), Victor Ibarbo (Atletico Nacional) and James Rodriguez (Porto) will hopefully be a part of the team more often in the future.
A crucial element for Colombia is the progress of the midfield. What Colombia has been lacking the last several years has been that one player who can be the general of the attack - someone who wants the ball and will do what it takes to get the ball into the back of the net. Two players that come to mind are Dayro and Giovanni Moreno (no relation).
GioMore, as I like to call him, is not afraid to take risks, but he has the tendency to take one too many. Over time, he will continue to improve, but the fans and media need to be patient - they tend to be too critical if players do not play perfect football, hence the constant rotation of players we have historically seen. Dayro has looked impressive for both club and country over the past few months. If he can keep his head on straight, expect to possibly see him make a return back to Europe.
The past few days we had friendly matches against Venezuela and Mexico. We were able to win against Venezuela 2-0 but lost 1-0 to Mexico. While there were moments of brilliance in both games, we still have a long way to go. Player selections still need to improve, as do the tactics. Between Gomez and his assistant, former defensive midfielder Leonel Alvarez, we are starting to see some regularity with the right players.
By June 2011, I think we will have gone through enough growing pains to be ready for the Copa America. While I don't expect us to win it all, I just want us to see us play well in the group stage and if we do lose in the knockout rounds, I want us to go out fighting – the days of bunkering down need to end. Either there is light at the end of the tunnel or just another train coming right at Colombia – time will tell!