Group H: Colombia hoping for James heroics again
Four years ago they lit the tournament up in Brazil, can they do it again in Russia?
James Rodriguez inspired Colombia to the quarter-finals in 2014, can he do so again at this World Cup? Photo: Getty Images
Who are they?
This will be Colombia’s second straight appearance at a World Cup after missing out for the previous 16 years and they will have high hopes of repeating their performance in Brazil which saw them reach the quarter-finals. For such a large, football-mad country they have perhaps not performed as well as they should at the five previous World Cups in which they have appeared although volatile situations back home have certainly impacted, no more so than in 1994. A recent 3-2 friendly win over France in Paris will certainly instil confidence.
World Cup moment
While their run to the quarter-finals in Brazil four years ago is Colombia’s best ever performance at a World Cup, the moment they’re most well-known for came at USA 94 and ultimately ended in the death of their captain Andres Escobar. With the domestic league in Colombia flooded with drug-money, the deadly cartels of Pablo Escobar and the likes had a huge influence on the national team given the fact that they quite literally paid their wages. However, at the World Cup in '94 the pressure was too much for a squad which included the likes of Faustino Asprilla, Rene Higuita and Carlos Valderramma. After losing their opening game of the tournament, Colombia needed a result against the USA but a terribly unlucky own goal from Escobar saw them lose 2-1 and crash out of the tournament. The cartels were not happy. Five days later, just after they returned from the United States, Escobar was in a nightclub with some friends when a disagreement occurred with some other men. Minutes later he was gunned down in cold blood in the car par, shot five times in the back. The murder shocked the nation and, ultimately, led to a crackdown on the drug money which was controlling football in the country. For more on this, the ESPN 30 For 30 documentary The Two Escobars is a must watch.
How did they get here?
It went right down to the wire for Colombia before they eventually qualified by finishing fourth in the South American qualifying league. Poor performances against big teams saw them beaten twice by Argentina and fail to pick up wins against Brazil, Uruguay or Chile. However, they picked up sufficient points against the smaller teams, topped off with a crucial draw against Peru on the final day, to book their place in Russia.
Jose Pekerman is a manager well-versed in World Cups after he led his native Argentina to the quarter-finals in 2006 before taking over at Colombia in 2012. He was in charge for their journey to the quarter-finals four years ago and was even awarded with citizenship of the country for his achievements.
The main man
Few will forget James Rodriguez’s performance in Brazil four years ago when, at the age of 22, he took the honour of top scorer in the tournament and catapulted himself in the global spotlight. His volley against Uruguay won Fifa Goal of the Year and earned him a move to Real Madrid. However, despite starting well at the Bernabeu, he failed to nail down a place in the team and was shipped out on loan to Bayern Munich last year. But since arriving in Germany he has re-found some of his best form and Colombia will once again expect a lot of him this year.
The one to watch
At just 21, Davinson Sanchez has been a revelation at Tottenham Hotspur this season since his €48 million move from Ajax last summer. The tall centre back played 31 times for Spurs last season and is one of the first names on the teamsheet for Colombia, despite his youth. While South America is not renowned for their defenders, Sanchez certainly seems to be one to buck the trend and the new five-year contract which he recently signed at Spurs will see him come into this tournament full of confidence.
Colombia should get out of their group with few problems, most likely battling Poland for top spot. After that a potential last 16 encounter with England or Belgium awaits so another quarter-final appearance is a real possibility.
Goalkeepers: David Ospina (Arsenal), Camilo Vargas (Deportivo Cali), Jose Fernando Cuadrado (Once Caldas).
Defenders: Cristian Zapata (Milan), Davinson Sanchez (Tottenham), Santiago Arias (PSV Eindhoven), Oscar Murillo (Pachuca), Frank Fabra (Boca Juniors), Johan Mojica (Girona), Yerry Mina (Barcelona).
Midfielders: Wílmar Barrios (Boca Juniors), Carlos Sanchez (Espanyol), Jefferson Lerma (Levante), Jose Izquierdo (Brighton), James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich), Abel Aguilar (Deportivo Cali), Mateus Uribe (America), Juan Fernando Quintero (River Plate), Juan Cuadrado (Juventus).
Forwards: Radamel Falcao (Monaco), Miguel Borja (Palmeiras), Carlos Bacca (Villarreal), Luis Muriel (Sevilla).