Los Cafeteros have their work cut out for them after looking ill-prepared against a well-organised Venezuelan side
The coffee nation’s hopes got off to a false start in this 44th edition of the Copa América on Sunday. Supported by about 10,000 yellow shirts in the El Teniente stadium in Rancagua and many thousands more outside the stadium, ‘Los Cafeteros’ were stopped by a well organised Venezuela, losing 1-0.
For the Colombian football fans in Chile the party started early, with thousands at the Santiago train station five hours before the match. Apart from a stray Venezuelan football fan dressed in claret, it was clear that the Colombian side could expect the majority of the support in the stadium.
It wasn’t expected that Colombia would have an easy ride. It turned out that their outstanding World Cup performance didn’t guarantee a good following season for its key players. Juan Guillermo Cuadrado, Juan Camilo Zúñiga, Pablo Armero, Cristián Zapata, Carlos Sánchez and Teófilo Gutiérrez all struggled for most of the season to find their World Cup form with their respective clubs.
However, James Rodriguez had a convincing first season in Real Madrid and goalkeeper David Ospina surprisingly won his spot in the starting line up at Arsenal, while Jackson Martínez and Carlos Bacca also shone.
On May 30, grizzled Colombia manager José Néstor Pékerman announced his squad for the Copa América and, as is the Argentine’s style, few surprises were seen in the squad. But he did make a statement by making Radamel Falcao the captain. ‘El Tigre’ had a difficult season in Manchester United, coming back from his injury but the manager showed his confidence in the 29 year old striker by handing him the captain’s armband.
Back to Rancagua, Venezuela was an opponent to be feared. The team from the Land of Grace has been steadily improving on the world stage and proved to be a real force to be reckoned with for Colombia after recent defeats in the World Cup qualifiers.
Colombia had an uninspiring start to the match, James and Cuadrado, usually good for creative input on the Colombian team, were invisible and strike duo Carlos Bacca and Radamel Falcao were well controlled by the Venezuelan defence, who didn’t hold back in the one-on-one duels. Colombia seemed overwhelmed by the strong Venezuelans.
The Colombian defence was steady but could use some time to gel, and the runs down the line from Pablo Armero and Camilo Zúñiga lacked enough conviction to cause trouble. On the other side there was not too much to fear for goalkeeper David Ospina although he handled a good Venezuelan attack finished by left midfielder Vargas very well, prompting a sigh of relief from the stands.
The scare in the first half was not enough of a wake up call for Colombia. The second half kicked off in the same style as the end of the first half, with an erratic Colombian side in possession but unable to find the space and the less skilled Venezuelans trying to spike through on the counterattack. The shocking Venezuelan lead came at the hour mark with Rondón heading a cross home into the far corner, just out of Ospina’s reach.
Pékerman immediately responded by bringing on new kid on the block Edwin Cardona for holding midfielder Sánchez. The slightly chubby looking creative midfielder feared for his howling long range shots tried to accelerate the game into its next gear but only half succeeded.
With Teófilo and Jackson Martínez also on the pitch, Pékerman played full on attack, Colombia did get chances with James firing from distance, as well as Cardona but the Venezuelan goalkeeper was on top of his game. Zapata and Téofilo just came short with other chances. Colombia held its breath in injury time when James was painfully pointing at his shoulder after a fall, but he finished the match, the scoreline didn’t change, and the yellow crowd in the stadium were left perplexed and disappointed.
Pékerman’s 23 are suddenly well away from qualifying for the quarter finals but with matches against Brazil and Peru to go, there is still everything to play for.
Make sure not to miss our Copa América special and our player profile on national team star Juan Guillermo Cuadrado.
By Freek Huigen