Is it too late for Colombia?
Four years ago, Brazil felt like their moment. James Rodriguez announced himself on the world stage with six tournament goals, only for the hosts to triumph in an epic slug fest in Fortaleza.
Much of the squad that crashed out in the quarter-finals will re-appear in Russia this time around.
Rodriguez suffered three indifferent seasons at Real Madrid before reigniting his career with Bayern Munich this year, whilst Radamel Falcao is fit and firing. Juan Cuadrado, Carlos Bacca and David Ospina are also certain to feature.
Route to Russia
A 3-0 defeat against Uruguay in October 2015 set the tone for a schismatic campaign under José Pekerman. Defeat in Montevideo was followed quickly by a bore draw with Chile and home defeat to Argentina.
Edwin Cardona’s last-gasp goal against Bolivia reinvigorated a struggling Colombia side, however, with victories over Ecuador and Venezuela taking the edge off defeat to Tite’s Brazil.
A hard-fought draw against Peru in Lima sealed the last spot in automatic qualifying, but in truth the Colombians were far from their best as they scraped into the top four by a point.
With one eye on their difficult time in CONMEBOL qualifying, Pekerman is likely to field a conservative 4-2-3-1.
Ospina is a guaranteed started in goal, with Davinson Sánchez and Yerry Mina offering a youthful, but exciting central defensive partnership.
Frank Fabra is a solid option at left back, with the Boca Juniors man looking to get forward in support of Rodríguez and Cuadrado in attack. Falcao will be at the apex of a formation anchored by Carlos Sánchez and Abel Aguilar.
For all of their attacking wizardry, few players enjoy a role as vital as Carlos Sánchez.
The water-carrier from Fiorentina knits it all together in central midfield, offering ballast against his compatriot’s attacking impulses.
He can be prone to lapses in concentration, being at fault for Thiago Silva’s opener in the World Cup four years ago. Aston Villa fans, meanwhile, might remember a player who had a distressing tendency to drift through games.
Sánchez, therefore, will be the bellwether for Pekerman’s side. If he performs, Colombia will too. If he doesn’t, things could get very ugly, very quickly.
Japan have come a long way since debuting at France 1998, but Colombia will be heartened nevertheless to face them first-up in Saransk.
Five days later, Mina and Sánchez will have the task of their lives in keeping out Poland’s Robert Lewandowski and Arkadiusz Milik, with the latter keen to reignite his career after devastating injury at Napoli.
Milik’s teammate in Italy, Kalidou Koulibaly, is one of the most in-form centre backs in the world this year, and he might have a huge say in Senegal stemming Colombian hopes for progression to the next round.
The Africans will also be able to call upon Liverpool wing wonder Sadio Mané for the final group game at the Cosmos Arena on the 28th June, in a fixture that could be decisive.
Colombia should have more than enough to navigate a tricky group, but their stultifying time in qualifying begs serious questions about their chances of progressing further than the second round.
A flimsy central midfield is their key weakness.
A lot will depend on Rodríguez’s ability to roll back the years at number 10, whilst Falcao must bring his club form with Monaco into the tournament.
Colombia might be talented, but they are not the force they were four years ago and will struggle against superior opponents.
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