Ten years ago, Colombia hosted the Copa America and won it all. Ever since then, it has been a gradual slide into mediocrity for los cafeteros. The 2007 Copa America was an ugly display after heading into the tournament with several misleading victories.
This time around, Colombia has faced stiffer competition over the past several months and look to be forming a squad that can not only compete in this tournament but will hopefully qualify for the 2014 World Cup.
Between Hernan Dario Gomez (manager during the '98 World Cup) and Leonel Alvarez (defensive midfielder '90 and '94 World Cup), Colombia is ready to regain a spot amongst the elite of South America.
David Ospina will be the man in charge of keeping the ball out of the net. Currently making a name for himself at OGC Nice, Ospina has had a trial by fire experience over the past year. While at times, he has appeared brilliant in goal, there have been a few brain farts that have cost Colombia to win certain friendlies.
Hopefully, these mistakes will be out of his system come the group stages.
Backing him up are Neco Martinez and Breiner Castillo who had successful performances in the Colombian league. Both keepers bring experience to the table and will be ready for international play if need be.
Historically, Colombia has been known for developing strong defenders. Two of Colombia's keys to success are on the flanks. Juan Zuniga and Pablo Armero will be carrying a huge weight on their shoulders in the group stages.
While Armero is developing a name for himself as a speed demon with an attacking prowess, Zuniga has been able to become Colombia's version of Dani Alves.
Centrally, the defense will be led by aging veteran Mario Yepes. What he lacks in pace these days, he makes up with experience, leadership and awareness, traits that only improve as time goes on.
This will probably be Super Mario's last chance to win a second trophy for Colombia, so expect him to leave it out on the field.
Alongside him will be either Cristian Zapata, Luis Perea or Aquivaldo Mosquera.
Zapata is definitely a long term part of the team's plans, but he has seen limited opportunities over the past year, which has been a big mistake by the management. Mosquera provides both size and experience in the middle but has seen limited playing time as well. Perea will most likely pair up with Yepes but has been erratic on several occasions.
With Zuniga playing as a midfielder for club team Napoli, a good combination would be to place Perea on the right and Yepes/Zapata in the middle and have Zuniga play in the right midfield.
Anytime people reminisce about Colombia, the first names that come to mind are Carlos Valderama, Freddy Rincon, Leonel Alvarez, Chicho Serna and Bernard Redin. Those days are over and have been for quite some time.
While the midfield has struggled to maintain possession, things turned for the best when Gomez decided to use a midfield comprised of Abel Aguilar, Freddy Guarin and Carlos Sanchez. Against Spain in a recent friendly, this midfield looked very impressive and played with a composure that has been absent for quite some time.
Between these three midfielders, you have three quality box to box midfielders who can win the ball and maintain control. In addition to this, there is Guarin who has become a midfield general of sorts.
In addition to his ball-winning ability, Guarin has shown the ability to be a playmaker, set-piece taker and shot taker from anywhere on the pitch.
Other attacking midfielders include Dayro Moreno who is capable of playing as a playmaker/striker/winger, Elkin Soto, who will most likely start as a left winger and Juan Cuadrado who will come off the bench and give the Colombians the necessary spark as a super sub.
For the first time in a long time, Colombia has one of the best strikers in the world in Radamel Falcao. Coming off an impressive Porto campaign (alongside Guarin), Falcao will be the No. 9 looking to carry his Porto form at the international level.
Depending on which formation Gomez decides to use, Falcao could be by himself up front should Colombia stick with a 4-5-1 formation or if using a 4-4-2, Falcao maybe paired up with Teo Gutierrez who was terrific for Racing in Argentina the past few months.
Adrian Ramos and Hugo Rodallega are also both quite versatile and can serve as either a winger or a striker. Jackson Martinez is another capable striker of causing some damage (three goals in six games), but it will be Falcao who will be leading the attack. Needless to say, Colombia has a number of solid options up front.
All Eyes On
Radamel Falcao. The Porto striker has yet to transfer his club form to the international level, so there is a lot riding at stake for the young Colombian. His awareness inside the 18 is rivaled by few.
Despite his average height, Falcao has scored numerous goals via headers, so hopefully Gomez/Alvarez have taken note of how best to adopt some of Porto's strategies to make Falcao be as effective.
Watch Out For
Fredy Guarin. Falcao's teammate at Porto was one of the keys to success for the Portuguese club this year. At the start of the 2010 club season, Guarin was rated no higher than occasional starter with some potential, but as the season progressed and after adding some muscle, Guarin became Porto's X-factor by scoring crucial goals in key games and setting up many critical goals en route to Europa League glory.
This form was evident in some of the recent friendlies and will be crucial if Colombia plans to win some games this tournament. Colombia has been missing a midfield general for quite some time and now is the time for Guarin to step up and become a household name.
Colombia should defeat Bolivia and Costa Rica, but will struggle against Argentina. In the round of eight, Colombia will sneak a victory past Chile but will be stopped by Argentina in the semi finals. Los Cafeteros will come out of this tournament with their heads up as they prepare for the 2014 World Cup.