It is 10 years since Colombia won their one and only Copa America title when they became the sole team to break Brazil’s monopoly of the trophy since 1995. The likelihood of Los Cafeteros repeating that feat in Argentina will rest on how well they support free-scoring forward Radamel Falcao.
The 2001 Copa America was fortunate to go ahead amid security concerns and the withdrawal of the favourites Argentina. While Colombia’s success owed much to weakened competition, with a transitional Brazil dumped out by Honduras in the quarter-finals, the hosts were the outstanding team and deserved winners. Their inpenetrable defence did not concede a single goal during the entire tournament while top scorer Victor Aristizabal was an incessant threat up front. Colombia’s current outfit may not be held in the same regard but in many ways this year’s pretenders are cut from a similar cloth to the heroes from 2001.
Colombia’s strength lies in a defensive line which is built on a bedrock of Serie A steel. Anchored by the experienced Milanese Mario Yepes, Colombia’s back four includes pacey Udinese duo Christian Zapata and Pablo Armero. At right-back, Napoli’s Camilo Zuniga is expected to take to the field ahead of the dynamic Luis Perea of Atletico Madrid who will offer cover at center-half. The depth of quality in the back four is evident in the fact that, despite failing to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, the Colombians boasted the third best defensive record in South America.
In midfield Gomez is likely to deploy a tight central three. Gone are the days that Colombia could call upon a playmaker of the calibre of Carlos Valderrama and the onus is expected to fall on Porto’s Fredy Guarin and Hercules’ Abel Aguilar to provide the creative spark which will be required to progress in Argentina. Both players netted in recent friendly wins over Ecuador and Senegal and what they offer in the final third will be crucial in improving Colombia’s dismal attacking record in recent years. They will be assisted on the flanks by any two from Hugo Rodallega, Elkin Soto or Dayro Moreno. In the absence of the injured Giovanni Moreno however, Valderrama has lamented a lack of flair in the midfield, telling fifa.com
Ultimately Colombia’s hopes will rest on the broad shoulders of Falcao, who will be hoping to replicate the achievements of Aristizabal ten years earlier. The physical striker has scored 73 goals in just two seasons at Porto but is yet to catch fire in a Colombia shirt. Should he hit form, he will pose South American defences plenty of problems and offer Colombia their best hope of progressing into the knockout stages of the Copa America.
Coach – Hernan Dario Gomez: Gomez was last in charge of Colombia in the late 1990s when they reached the World Cup before suffering group stage defeats to Romania and England. He was re-appointed in May 2010 and, given reduced options through the centre, will ask his full-backs to overlap and provide an attacking threat.
One to watch – Radamel Falcao: Porto’s prolific front man has found goals harder to come by at international level. Following an outstanding season as Porto lifted the Europa League trophy, epitomised by the thumping header which defeated Braga in the final, Falcao will be hoping to carry his form to Argentina.
Zuniga – Zapata – Yepes – Armero
Guarin – Aguilar
Moreno – Falcao – Rodallega