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2014 World Cup Previews Group C: Colombia

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Team: Colombia
Group: C
Schedule: June 14 vs. Greece; June 19 vs. Ivory Coast/Cote D’Ivoire; June 24. vs. Japan.
World Cup Record: 3-8-2 (Round of 16, 1990.)
Qualifying Form: Colombia finished second to Argentina in CONMEBOL qualifying, reaching the World Cup finals for the first time since 1998 in the process.

Manager: Jose Pekerman, an Argentine who managed his native country at the 2006 World Cup and infamously left Lionel Messi on the bench in favor of Julio Cruz in a quarterfinal loss to Germany. Colombia allowed the fewest goals in South American qualifying (13) and only nine in 13 matches after Pekerman took over in January 2012.

Player to Watch: Juan Cuadrado. Serie A’s reputation in America keeps sinking, so most in America are probably unaware of the Fiorentina winger. That will change after the World Cup given his speed and ability to finish. Oh right, Cuadrado is a pre-tournament darkhorse for best hair in Brazil.

Tactics/Style: Even without injured star striker Radamel Falcao (50-50, at best, to make the final roster), Colombia will be one of the more attack-minded teams in Brazil. Colombia will be one of the few teams at the World Cup to deploy two out-and-out strikers at the start of games given Pekerman’s fondness for 4-4-2 — the missionary position of soccer formations.

WAG of Note: Super model Natalia Velez has previously been linked to Falcao, but they’re no longer an item.

Reason to root for: Two words: Carlos Valderrama. Fun thought: has MLS imported a playmaker of El Pibe‘s quality this decade? Maybe it’s because nobody tends to care very much about MLS 1.0 days, but Valderrama was damn good for Colorado, Tampa and Miami. It probably doesn’t help his legacy in America, either, that the Mutiny and Fusion were contracted in 2001, meaning most Americans think he was nothing more than a pile of floppy hair.

Reason to root against: Colombia is the new Belgium, in that cool “in-the-know” folks will tout them as their team to watch for the tournament. That always gets annoying, right? Then again, the hipster-leaning folks have already moved onto another team you’ve probably never heard of anyways.

Odds of winning: 33-to-1

Miscellany: Fredy Guarin will miss the Greece game due to a red card in a friendly last year. … Remarkably, Faryd Mondragón, who played briefly for the Philadelphia Union, is part of Colombia’s squad. He’ll turn 43 on June 21 and participated in the 1994 World Cup. Colombia is captained by 38-year-old Mario Yepes and also is bringing 35-year-old Luis Perea to the tournament. … If you haven’t already watched it, track down ESPN’s 30 for 30 “The Two Escobars.” Well worth 90+ minutes of your time. … Monaco midfielder James Rodriguez owns a great repetuation, let’s see if he lives up to it. … Porto’s Juan  Quintero, with only three caps, is someone to file away for the tournament — and the future. … Keeper David Ospina is solid and probably on his way to a new club after spending the last six years in France with Nice. … Friendly reminder to American bars with outdoor chalk signs: Colombia is the country. Columbia is a university and or city in South Carolina and Missouri.

Can we talk about Rene Higuita’s Scorpion Kick again?: Listen closely to hear a familiar voice calling that magical moment of brilliance.

Fox And FX's 2014 Golden Globe Awards Party - ArrivalsSofía Vergara or Shakira?: Yes

Maybe the sky isn’t falling for Colombia without Falcao?: If not for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Falcao could make a claim as the best out-and-out striker in the world, on reputation (and price tag).  The Monaco star suffered a knee injury earlier this year, but was included in Colombia’s provisional roster even though he’s only about 60 percent. Don’t shed any tears for Colombia since Jackson Martinez (Porto); Adrian Ramos (Hertha Berlin) and Carlos Bacca (Sevilla) each put together strong club seasons and River Plate’s Teofilo Gutierrez is yet another option. In further reserve are Serie-A based Luis Muriel and Victor Ibarbo. Yes, Falaco is a game-changer and a dynamic player for his uncanny ability to finish either in the air or his blistering shot, but if he’s not 100 percent is it worth risking it for Colombia when it has so many other viable options up top? Colombia might have the deepest out-and-out striker pool in the tournament.

Last word: Colombia caught a break in its long-awaited return to the World Cup, landing in arguably the softest group in the tournament — one which lacks a former winner or extreme South American or European powerhouse. With or without Falcao this is a team — on South American soil, mind — that should get out of the group and be a dangerous out in the knockout rounds. You wonder if Peckerman’s conservative nature combined with Colombia over-flowing attacking options don’t gel without the talismandic Falcao to lead the way up front. How deep Colombia advances could come down to if it gets familiar foe Uruguay in the Round of 16 or a tough match with tournament-tested Italy.

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