14-June Greece (5pm GMT Belo Horizonte)
19-June Ivory Coast (5pm GMT Brasilia)
24-June Japan (9pm GMT Cuiaba)
Colombia are all set to make their first World Cup finals appearance since France 1998 and, as Richard Thomas highlights, they are many people’s dark horses for an extended run in Brazil.
Coach: Jose Pekerman
Jose Pekerman is something of a hero in Colombia having masterminded Los Cafeteros’ return to the World Cup finals after a 16-year absence. He was already the team’s third Coach of the qualifying campaign when he took the post in January 2012, but restored calm to eventually secure a second placed finish in the group and automatic qualification for Brazil. The 64-year-old has previous tournament experience too, having led his native Argentina at Germany 2006.
Why they could be dangerous
Many see Colombia as potential dark horses to progress deep into the tournament, an opinion mostly down to their vast array of attacking talent. While they also had the best defensive record in South American qualifying, the likes of James Rodriguez, Juan Cuadrado, Jackson Martinez and, of course, Radamel Falcao should make them a real force going forward. Much may depend on what sort of shape Falcao can get himself into as he races to be fit for the tournament.
The world on his shoulders: Radamel Falcao
The 28-year-old Monaco talisman suffered knee ligament damage in January and, though the usual recovery time for an injury of this sort is 6-8 months, he is still hopeful of being fit in time to lead his country in Brazil. Should he succeed, he will be relied upon to be Los Cafeteros’ main source of goals. Having scored nine times in qualifying and 17 for his country in total, Falcao’s importance cannot be underestimated.
Did you know?
Colombia’s presence in Brazil will be the fifth time Los Cafeteros have contested a World Cup finals. They have not fared particularly well in their other four appearances, with a run to the Round of 16 of Italia ’90 being the only time the team has progressed beyond the group stage. Hope is high that this tournament will be their best yet.
Country legend: Carlos Valderrama
Carlos Valderrama is perhaps just as well known around the world for his eccentric hairstyle as he is for his footballing exploits. There is of course much more to him than that and the 52-year-old is his country’s most capped player with 111 appearances. As a former midfielder with real technique, elegance and an eye for a free-kick, Valderrama captained his country at both the 1994 and 1998 World Cups during a golden period for Colombian football.
With Pekerman having experimented with several formations during qualifying, he seems to have finally settled on a 4-2-2-2 as the most effective way of getting the best out of his attacking players. Fitness permitting, Falcao and Martinez should start up front with Teofilo Gutierrez coming in if the former misses out. Cuadrado and Rodriguez will provide able support from out wide, while Fredy Guarin and Abel Aguilar are expected to anchor the midfield.
…Greece P1 W1 D0 L0 F2 A0
…Ivory Coast P0 W0 D0 L0 F0 A0
…Japan P2 W1 D1 L0 F1 A0
Population: 47.7 million
World Cup appearances: 4
Best finish: Round of 16, Italy 1990
Famous for: Unfortunately, Colombia made the headlines for all the wrong reasons after exiting the 1994 World Cup in USA. Defender Andres Escobar was tragically shot dead after arriving home from his country’s campaign, having scored an own goal that contributed to their early elimination.
Top Division: Colombian Primera A
How they got to the World Cup: Finished 2nd in South America’s nine-team qualifying group
FIFA World Ranking: 5
Last World Cup Appearance: France 1998 – Eliminated at the Group Stage after finishing 3rd in Group G
Continental Honours: 2001 Copa America winners
Most Capped Player: Carlos Valderrama (111 caps)
Leading International Scorer: Arnoldo Iguaran (25 goals)
Nickname: Los Cafeteros – The Coffee Growers