Colombia vs Paraguay takes place in Barranquilla this Thursday at 6.30pm. A victory could see Colombia seal qualification for the World Cup in Russia 2018.
The Estadio Metropolitano in Barranquilla is the showground for what could be Colombia’s jump to the biggest stage in football, the World Cup in Russia. The locals are in the driver’s seat for qualification holding a 2-point lead over Peru and Argentina, who will meet each other at the same time.
The form of Pekerman’s boys only seems to have improved since last game. Radamel Falcao keeps scoring in Monaco and boasts one of the best strike rates in Europe this season, while James Rodríguez shook off his injury and is now slowly making his mark at Bayern Munich.
Another important factor in the Colombian national team is the rise of Davinson Sánchez. The 20-year-old centre back made a seemingly effortless adjustment to life with Tottenham Hotspur and is already seen as one of the best summer signings in the Premier League. Sánchez had a remarkable breakthrough year at Ajax in the Netherlands, where he made it to the Europa league final.
He stood out at Ajax, combining strength in the air and speed, before being chosen as player of the year. However, his debut for the national side was poor. In 2016 in Argentina, the very inexperienced defence he was part of couldn’t stop the likes of Messi and Di Maria. A month ago, though, against Brazil he was one of the best players facing the likes of Gabriel Jesus, Neymar, Firmino, and Willian.
Related: Falcao earns valuable draw for Colombia against Brazil
This game he will have Christian Zapata next to him. With his 49 caps, the experienced defender seems like a good match for the future star. Paraguay are feared for their strength in the air, so Colombia will try to avoid giving away corners or free kicks in their half, but with Davinson they have a defender who should be able to fend off the Paraguayan set pieces. In all other areas Paraguay doesn’t have anywhere near the offensive quality Colombia has.
If los Cafeteros take the victory, Colombia are guaranteed to place at least fifth, which means a spot in the play-offs versus New Zealand. But it is other countries who will decide whether Colombia qualifies directly. If Chile don’t win against Ecuador in Santiago de Chile, or if Argentina against Peru doesn’t see a winner in Buenos Aires, a victory against Paraguay will confirm Colombia’s presence in Russia next year. The three games will all kick off at the same time.
Related: Colombia’s World Cup football history
It won’t be a complete disaster if the results of the other games don’t work in Colombia’s favour, and the team only manage a draw or are defeated by Paraguay. But a negative result will put all pressure on the final round on October 10, where Peru will host Colombia in Lima. No matter what the result versus Paraguay is, a victory in Peru will also place Colombia in the playoffs at worst.
The odds are in Colombia’s favour in Barranquilla, as the team are considered the favourites to win this game and qualify for the World Cup, but the pressure is on Pekerman’s boys.