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Colombia hopeful despite Falcao absence

’El Tigre’ is injured but Los Cafeteros have enough fire power to progress from Group C

Falcao’s Monaco team mate James Rodriquez carries Colombian hopes in the absence of ’El Tigre’
Fulham’s Kostas Mitroglou faces a race to be fit for Saturday’s Group C opener against Colombia

Colombia face Greece in Belo Horizonte on Saturday night with both sides having legitimate hopes of progressing from arguably the tournament’s weakest group.

Joined by Japan and the Ivory Coast, Group C presents the two nations with a golden opportunity to improve on a record of only a single knockout stage appearance between them.

Colombia made the last-16 in 1990, while Greece have never been able to match their 2004 European Championship heroics at the World Cup, winning just once in six appearances.

Colombian prospects have been tempered by the absence of star man Radamel Falcao. He was omitted from the final squad last week after failing to recover in time from knee ligament damage suffered in a French Cup tie in January for Monaco.

While Colombia are hardly bereft of attacking options without him the loss of ‘El Tigre’, who top scored in qualification with nine goals, has dealt their hopes a significant blow.

Colombian supporters are used to anti-climatic World Cup finals.

In 1994 qualification they finished top of their group, stuffing Argentina 5-0 in Buenos Aires in the process.

Yet the tournament was an unmitigated disaster, with rumours of drug cartels and betting syndicates influencing team selection and death threats sent to manager Francisco Maturana, and Colombia finished bottom of a group including Romania, Switzerland and hosts USA.

Falcao’s teammate at Monaco, James Rodriguez, is one of an exciting crop of attacking talent carrying Colombian hopes in the absence of their talisman.

Jackson Martinez, who top scored in Portugal for Porto last season, is joined by River Plate’s Teofilo Gutierrez, Sevilla’s Carlos Bacca and Borussia Dortmund bound Adrian Ramos in an exciting attacking quarter.

Manager José Pekerman is however without Inter Milan’s Fredy Guarin who misses the opening tie through suspension.

In what may come as a surprise to Fulham fans, Greek hopes lie largely with Konstantinos Mitroglou.

The centre-forward was the missing man at Craven Cottage since his move from Olympiakos in January, but scored three times over two legs in Greece’s play-off victory over Romania.

But manager Fernando Santos must make a late decision on his fitness after his recovery from a knee injury.

He will also assess if defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos is fit enough to rejoin a back four which kept eight clean sheets during qualifying, more than any European side.