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Rally Round the Colours!
Watching Colombia’s opening match against Greece, one could be forgiven for thinking it was taking place in Colombia, as thousands of fans turned Belo Horizonte into a sea of yellow and red – pockmarked only slightly with the occasional blue of the Greek supporters.
Just twelve days before, at the training camp in Argentina, Colombia suffered its biggest upset. It was the confirmation of what everybody expected but it was still a hard blow. Falcao, the star in qualification and arguably one of the best strikers in the world, was ruled out of playing in the World Cup.
A dejected Jose Pekerman made the announcement at a press conference with Falcao, Perea and Muriel by his side. The Argentine manager stated; “This is the saddest day since I became manager of Colombia.”
Falcao added: “I had hoped to play, but I just have to continue and cheer for my teammates from the sidelines. I am not 100 percent yet and it would not be fair to take away a place from one of my teammates.
Without Falcao, the pre-World Cup friendlies didn’t give away anything about Pekerman’s strategy in the lead up to the match with Greece. A friendly against Senegal on May 31 ended 2-2 after Colombia squandered a 2-0 lead obtained with goals from Bacca and Teofilo. The lineup, on the other hand, was no representation of the best the team had to offer, with James Rodriguez, Cuadrado and Ospina not dressed for the match.
The second friendly on June 6 versus Jordan showed a Colombia closer to the predicted line up. The 3-0 win was relatively easy, but not very convincing against the weak Middle Eastern team. Two penalties were needed to break the rigid Jordan defence before Guarin finished the game off with a great long-range goal.
Pekerman stuck to his beliefs and let out no more information than strictly necessary from the training camp in his home country. The squad had a minor scare when backup midfielder Aldo Leao Ramirez incurred an injury, leaving him out of the World Cup squad. He was replaced by Carlos Carbonero, the 23 year-old attacking midfielder who will be looking for his second cap during the World Cup.
The day before the match against Greece, Pekerman looked very confident in the press conference. He seemed to have left his usual concerns in Argentina and cheerfully chatted with the reporters.
“Our injuries are in the past; even though [Greece] is a tough opponent we will face our opponent as a family,” he said.
On Saturday, his confidence was born out with a convincing win over Greece. Supported by Falcao, who was sat as a talisman on the stands, Colombia didn’t show any sign of stage fright.
By Freek Huigen