Colombia will face direct rivals Ecuador in Barranquilla this Thursday. A victory for the home side could catapult Colombia into a comfortable position for qualification for Qatar 2022.
Before the start of this international break, few expected that Colombia would be in this position. But los cafeteros recorded two valuable draws against direct rival Uruguay and Brazil, who dropped their first point in 10 games against Colombia. Ecuador, Paraguay, and Uruguay on the other hand didn’t get the results they expected – and so could see Colombia run ahead. However, Colombia’s got something to prove against Ecuador. Ecuador ran rampant against the visitors last year in Quito. The fallout from the embarrassing 6-1 score meant the end of manager Carlos Queiroz’s time as head of the national team.
For this match in Barranquilla, the circumstances are very different. Quito’s high altitude gives Ecuador a strong at home advantage. But in the heat in Barranquilla, Colombia is expected to have the upper hand. Besides that, manager Reinaldo Rueda, who replaced Queiroz, has made Colombia almost impossible to beat. As such, Colombia is a huge favourite for this match.
It looks like Rueda isn’t going to touch his backline, meaning that Yerry Mina and Carlos Cuesta will again form the centre of defence. So far they haven’t conceded a single goal in this international break. Cuesta came in for Davinson Sánchez when the Tottenham Hotspur centre-back was suspended and firmly claimed the spot with three flawless performances. Stefan Medina and Johan Mojica again seem destined to be the fullbacks for this game.
Barrios and Ospina likely to shine
Ahead of them, Wilmar Barrios will be the lock on the door on the midfield. The holding midfielder from Zenit St Petersburg has been outstanding for years, and showed no signs of changing against Uruguay and Brazil, where he was one of the – if not the – best players on the pitch. Though captain David Ospina would also be in the running for that accolade. The goalkeeper had a few key saves in both games and his performances reopened the discussion on whether he is the best goalkeeper Colombia has ever had.
It remains to be seen whether there’ll be changes to the rest of the team. In spite of the good results, Colombia was on the back foot most of the last two matches. The attacking line weren’t able to create enough danger or relieve pressure on the Colombian defence. That means that Radamel Falcao, who started both games, could be starting from the bench this game. Juan Guillermo Cuadrado will probably be back in the side after a suspension. The winger is one of Rueda’s most used players and is expected to start.
Can Colombia take another big step towards the World Cup in Qatar next year? The kick-off for Colombia vs Ecuador is this Thursday at 4pm in Estadio Metropolitano Roberto Meléndez in Barranquilla.