Bristolatino’s Sports Editor Freddy Hare tells us why he thinks the Colombian selección will surprise and impress in the upcoming World Cup in Brazil.
The term ‘Golden Generation’ is thrown around quite loosely these days. Indeed, the England side of the 2000s was our ‘Golden Generation’ and Three Lions fans have been rewarded with lacklustre displays and disappointment at every major tournament, despite promising qualifying campaigns (let’s ignore Euro 2008- it helped my GCSE revision no end).
Having been born in Brussels, I’ve always kept a close eye on Belgian football and, with a current squad that has also been branded the ‘Golden Generation’, many are speculating that they could be the surprise package in Brazil next year.
Throughout the squad, there is fantastic competition for places. Simon Mignolet and Thibaut Courtois are both playing regularly for Liverpool and Atlético Madrid respectively. Jan Vertonghen, Toby Aldeweireld and Thomas Vermaelen are all fighting it out to partner Captain Vincent Kompany at centre back.
In midfield, you’ve got the defensive-minded Steven Defour to compensate for the more attacking central midfielders like Marouane Fellaini and Mousa Dembélé, whilst out wide, Chelsea pair Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne and Everton’s Kevin Mirallas can all create something out of nothing.
Up front, Romelu Lukaku, on loan at Everton from Chelsea, has scored 7 goals in 8 games and Christian Benteke’s goals saved Aston Villa from relegation last season. Out of the players mentioned, 11 play in the Barclays Premier League, 1 in La Liga, 1 in Portugal and 1 in Holland. Top players in top leagues. But why am I banging on about Belgium when my article is supposedly about Colombia?
The reason is that this “Golden Generation” were soundly beaten 2-0 by Colombia in a friendly on the 14th November, a cold Belgian night. Colombia finished 2nd in the South America World Cup Qualifying Section, behind Argentina, and are currently ranked 4th in the world. As dubious as the method by which the rankings are decided is, it is no less than Colombia deserve. With players like Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez amongst their ranks, they are a team of real quality. Yet of course, other factors will come into play in Brazil.
As Tim Vickery pointed out in his blog, a crucial factor will be the climate in Brazil. With teams set to be playing group matches all over the country, the dramatic weather changes from the tropical North to the cold South will negatively affect certain nations, especially European ones. However, Colombia will be more suitably prepared and this will give them a valuable edge.
Another point worth bearing in mind is the lack of pressure on the team’s shoulders. Some teams really struggle with the high expectations from their fans and the media. Again, England come to mind, as do many Spanish XIs up to 2008, and it will be fascinating to see how Brazil cope. As I talked about in a previous Bristolatino article of mine, this World Cup is seen as a chance at redemption for the failure of 1950, but with a young side, Brazil may well buckle under the pressure. Colombia however, playing their first World Cup since 1998, can only impress with a side of their quality.
History is also on their side. Every World Cup that has been played in South America (6 of them to be precise), has been won by a South American side. I don’t normally believe in these kind of omens, but sure, I’ll believe in this one if it backs up my case.
Finally, their squad is one of real class, especially up front. Falcao is currently playing for Monaco and has scored 9 goals in 14 appearances, despite reports of his being unhappy in France. He has been assisted primarily by fellow Colombian, James Rodriguez. A left-footed attacking midfielder, his creativity is one of his strongest attributes. A top striker needs to be fed and this is precisely why Falcao and Rodriguez are such a formidable pair. Their playing week in week out, like they did in Porto a few years ago, will benefit the selección no end.
At the other end of the pitch, we find abundant experience, which serves to complement the handful of younger, quicker players. Luís Perea has played for Colombia 74 times and has an impressive amount of European football experience, whilst Cristián Zapata and Pablo Armero have been regulars for AC Milan and Napoli respectively this season. In goal, 42 year-old Faryd Mondragon is still Number 1, 20 years after his debut and breaking countless other records in the process. For any old school Championship Manager fans, Mario Yepes is still in contention for a starting place and would also bring invaluable experience to the side.
In the centre of the park, ‘The Rock’ Carlos Sánchez and Aldo Ramirez are the holding midfielders, allowing Fiorentina’s Juan Guillermo Cuadrado, renowned for his pace and dribbling, and the aforementioned James Rodriguez to get the ball into Falcao.
It’s a team with terrific balance, much better than that of say Argentina, and other factors will play a big part. By all means, put a fiver on Belgium, but I’m going to put a tenner on Colombia, as with a bit of luck, they could produce something very special in the months of June and July 2014.
NB This article was written before the World Cup draw on the 6th of December 2013.