The FIFA World Cup Team Runthrough Thread #1 For 6/11/14: #12 Colombia
Zuniga - Zapata - Yepes - Armero
Aguilar - Sanchez
Rodriguez- Guarin- Cuardado
Key Bench Options: Martinez, Ramos, Bacca, Ibarbo, Quintero, Alvarez Balanta
Before the misfortune of seeing Radamel Falcao go down with a devastating ACL injury in January with Monaco, there was still major fears for the Colombian nation about their shaky central defense that could ruin their long awaited return to the World Cup Finals.
Falcao's expected loss for the tournament was a psychological blow, but with the new golden generation of attacking talents available for Jose Pekerman, the talisman forward could somehow be replaced. It is though at the centerback position where they main dilemma lies and will only be answered correctly or wrongly in a tough Group C with organized Greece up first.
The capricious and much criticized Cristian Zapata and longtime captain Mario Yepes' play in front of talented young goalkeeper David Ospina will decide if Colombia are going to be this tournament's Uruguay or not.
Despite possessing great physical features, Zapata has a highlight reel of "How not to be a world class centerback" in his time at Milan. He is seen as a prime example for the decline of the Rossioneri as a European power with a myriad of repeated errors and poor positioning, and has continued that shaky play with his national side. It doesn't help the 27-year-old that Pekerman will stay steadfast to an aggressive, attacking approach, but Zapata for his talent must do better in order for his county to not repeat the same disappointing fate 20-years ago in America.
That analogous level of expectation is placed on Yepes, who must find some range and extra bit of pace as his skills rapidly decline. The 38-year-old is one of the oldest players in the tournament behind ageless 42-year-old goalkeeper Mondragon and displayed his own struggles at the San Siro with Zapata over the last seasons. His move to fellow Seria A side Atlanta hasn't helped matters and furthered the microscope he and Zapata are under. It's why holding midfield pairing Carlos Sanchez and Abel Aguilar continued to be just as important for this electric Colombian squad as anyone.
The 28-year-old Sanchez was an integral part in Elche having a successful survival in their first season in La Liga and will hope to bring that tenacity and ball winning ability to Brazil 2014. "La Roca" (Sanche'z nickname) is a fine partner to the more forward passing Aguilar, although the Toulouse 29-year-old can also properly join in on a swarming ball winning group effort as well. If they can protect their vulnerable centerback pairing, the rest of the competition had better watch out.
The likes of Juan Cuadrado and Fredy Guarin have become true stars of the Italian top flight with their eye-catching pace, dribbling, and shooting. Despite sometimes not wanting to be as active on defense as he needs to, Guarin is still a danger man to any side. The 27-year-old Inter figure has carried his breakthrough success with Porto to Inter and is establishing himself well for the 2010 European Championships. Cuadrado meanwhile has grown to his reputation in Serie A since his learning curve arrival at Udinese in 2009. His pace and dribble ability has never been a question, but Cuadrado this season with Fiorentina added a reliable finishing element to raise his reputation and maybe lead him to being a top purchase by some of Europe's biggest clubs this summer.
Both Cuadrado and Guarin's tasks are made easier by the rapid maturity of explosive playmaker James Rodriguez, who grew even more at Monaco this season after seeing the injury of Falcao first hand. A 9 goal, 12 assists tally in his first year in Ligue 1 was more evidence of how the 22-year-old looks poised to be one of the best players in the world for many years to come. He has all the unique facets of a top player and will want to show that in his fallen teammate's void.
Literally having to fill Falcao's absence are a quarter of strikers who have their own reputable resumes. Teofilo Guiterrez maybe the only non- European based forward, but his importance to this group of players can't ever be understated. He established great chemistry with El Tigre (Falcao's nickname) and continues to produce whenever called upon by his nation. The River Plate underrated finisher could see himself play up front by himself in order to have Cuadrado, Guarin, Rodriguez, Sanchez, and Aguilar behind him.
Pekerman could be tempted to drop one of his two holders and bring in one of his 6'1 physically gifted strikers in Porto star Jackson Martinez or Robert Lewandowski replacement Adrian Ramos, now of Borussia Dortmund. The 28-year-old Ramos had a career year at Hertha Berlin with 16 goals to further erase the pain of Falcao's unavailability. Ramos' great campaign put into question if Martinez would be Guiterrez's new partner if Pekerman decides to start with two forwards. The 27-year-old Martinez should retain his place if the Argentine manager does decide that formation, tearing up the Liga Sagres once more with a 20 goal season domestically and two more tallies in the Champions League.
The strike options are so deep for Los Cafeteros that Sevilla co-leading scorer Carlos Becca would need a rash of injuries to even get time on the field, while much hyped 23-year-old talent Luis Muriel will have to wait another four years to showcase his abilities on the global stage. Muriel was well left off the final 23, but the same fate was not for Juan Quintero, another blue chip playmaking prospect serving as Rodriguez's understudy at Porto last year and his understudy on the national team scene.
The array of dexterity to create and score goals with their frenetic style made Colombia a team non of the tournament favorites wanted to play, but it all comes back to defense on whether they will have the vaunted breakthrough that Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay have in their rolodex. The concerns with the rough seasons fullbacks Juan Zuniga and Pablo Armero had at Napoli, with Zuniga only playing six times this season for Rafa Benitez after suffering a knee injury at the beginning of the season. Armero meanwhile had to go on loan to West Ham but struggled to find time and will completely the concern across the backline.
With the major questions surrounding the defensive veterans, the young duo of Eder Alvarez Balanta (21) and Santiago Arias (22) maybe called upon to play vital roles at their tender ages. Right back Arias has been too invisible in his time with Sporting and PSV, but Balanta has seen his star rise at River Plate. It still will be a shock if either of them start, as Pekerman will have to trust Armero, Yepes, Zapata, and Zuniga as the back four that will either have Colombia sink or swim. Ospina's excellence season with 4th place Ligue 1 side Nice must carry over.
Colombia have waited a long time to comeback to the World Cup Finals, and it seemed the cruel nature of their superstar forward going down would lead to an unceremonious return after such great work exhibited since the start of 2011 Copa America. They have been able to finally move on from Falcao's injury to remain such a major threat. But to survive a tough Group C with formidable sides such as Greece, Ivory Coast, and Japan, they backline must give Pekerman and Colombian fans full comfort. Or it will be another World Cup ending far sooner then their talent deserves.
Key, Under The Radar Players:
Carlos Sanchez: "La Roca" (The Rock) must be just that in order to help give Colombia something most don't expect them to have: True defensive steel