Colombia - World Cup 2014 Team Profile
Sean O'Conor reports
Road to Brazil
Colombia finished second behind Argentina in the CONMEBOL qualifiers, winning nine of their 16 games and securing their first qualification for the finals since 1998. Los Cafeteros lost four times, at home to Argentina and away to Ecuador, Uruguay and Venezuela.
Colombia scored 27 and conceded 13, the second-best goal difference. Their most impressive win was 3-1 away to close rivals Chile, when Radamel Falcao, Teofilo Gutierrez and James Rodriguez put the finishing touches to a rousing second half fight back.
Colombia Kit 1
Colombia Kit 2
Nine goals in qualifying, a total only beaten in South America by Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, says enough: Losing Falcao to a tackle in a French League Cup match in January is a triple blow, firstly for Colombia, secondly for a 28 year old at the peak of his powers and lastly for the World Cup, which is poorer without the world's best players on show.
Attempting to fill his awesome boots is Sevilla's lively striker Carlos Bacca, who has impressed in recent friendlies with his versatile forward play, although coach Jose Pekerman may opt instead for Porto's Jackson Martinez, more of a Falcao-style poacher hanging on the shoulders of the last defenders.
An additional forward option is Adrian Ramos, who banged in 16 goals for Hertha Berlin this season in the Bundesliga but has yet to translate that form into la seleccion.
With or without their talisman ahead of them, Colombia play attractive attacking football through their flowing midfield. Pekerman tends to use a loose 4-2-2-2 shape but has recently been dabbling with a lone striker in a 4-5-1 system.
Carlos Sanchez will be the defensive anchor in the centre and there are a number of options around him. Falcao's Monaco teammate James Rodriguez is sure to feature for his incisive attacking runs, and Pekerman could also find space for the clever passing of Porto's Juan Quintero. A more safety-first approach would involve Toulouse's Abel Aguilar stemming the tide alongside Sanchez.
Out wide, two men based in Serie A have the task of bringing the ball into the final third: Cagliari's pacy Victor Ibarbo and Fiorentina's Juan Cuadrado, but Rodriguez on the left caused a lot of trouble to the opposition in the qualifiers, so Ibarbo could drop into the hole in a 4-2-3-1.
If Pekerman opts for two front men instead, expect River Plate's Teofilo Gutierrez to get the nod as the support striker to Bacca or Martinez.
In defence is where Colombia are expected to struggle as their centre-backs Mario Yepes and Luis Amaranto have a combined age of 73. Yepes, age 38, is not the oldest squad member, beaten by 42 year-old goalkeeping legend Faryd Mondragon.
Milan's Cristian Zapata (27) and San Lorenzo's Carlos Valdes (29) could offer younger legs in defence but Pekerman has kept faith with his two central stalwarts. At least the full backs are swift of foot - Napoli's Camilo Zuniga at right back and West Ham's Pablo Armero on the left.
But for all the ageism in the air, Colombia's back line were the meanest in South American qualifying, conceding half as many goals as third-placed Chile, for instance. Yepes is the dressing-room leader and Pekerman trusts his old soldiers to hold tight.
Colombia like to press their opponents and boss the game with their passing but are less comfortable when on the back foot and suffered a collective collapse of nerves in some of their qualifying defeats.
One should not underestimate the boost given to them by their supporters, who at the last count seemed to be every man, woman and child in Colombia. The public back home is thrilled by competing in the finals for the first time in 16 years and being seeded for the first time. Thousands will be making the trek across the Amazon to cheer the team on.
It is important Colombia get off to a winning start against Greece and do not lose against Ivory Coast. Japan is the toughest of their opening games but with the Samurai Blue not in the best of health, Los Cafeteros should be confident of at least a draw to progress.
The world has not seen Colombia on the biggest stage since last century so they are hoping to win a new legion of fans, too young to remember Francisco Maturana's golden passing team of the early 1990s.
Key player: Carlos Bacca
His name may not be on everyone's lips yet but the 27 year old rangy striker will have a ton on his shoulders if, as expected, he slots into the role vacated by Falcao's unfortunate injury. He has just bagged 14 goals for Sevilla in La Liga and was voted the best signing of the season by Marca newspaper. Pekerman needs goals and will base the team around him.
One to watch: James Rodriguez
Name the Colombia star who plays for Monaco and you will probably think of Falcao. But lest we forget the French club also spent €45 million on this young man last year.
James Rodriguez is still only 22 but dazzled in the qualifiers with several penetrating runs from the left side of midfield. Slight of build and fresh-faced, he has creativity as well as pace and in qualifying scored three goals and created 43 scoring chances, more than anyone else in South America. His boyhood hero Carlos Valderrama has knighted him as his true heir and said he may even turn out to be the greatest Colombian footballer of all time. Married to goalkeeper David Ospina's sister.
Coach: Jose Pekerman
The 64 year-old is itching for another World Cup having guided Argentina to the 2006 quarter-finals, where they lost on penalties to Germany. Pekerman knows Colombia well, having played midfield for Independiente Medellin in the mid 1970s. Austere and disciplinarian in appearance, he tends to shun the media and let his players do the talking. Contrary to the colourful and effusive Colombian character he might be, but no-one is arguing with his results and a nation is in his gratitude for getting Colombia to the finals.
1990 Second Round; 1962, 1994, 1998 First Round
Losing Falcao is an enormous blow, whatever the squad is saying. But with an entire nation still pumped about their first appearance in the finals since 1998, the team is not about to lose heart. In Jose Pekerman they have one of the best coaches in the tournament and with a benevolent first-round draw on familiar South American territory, Los Cafeteros have every chance of going where no Colombian side have gone before and reaching the last eight. Had El Tigre been on board, they would have been a good bet for the semis.
2014 World Cup Squad
Goalkeepers: David Ospina (Nice), Faryd Mondragon (Deportivo Cali), Camilo Vargas (Santa Fe)
Defenders: Santiago Arias (PSV), Pablo Armero (West Ham), Cristian Zapata (Milan), Mario Yepes (Atalanta), Eder Balanta (River Plate), Carlos Valdez (San Lorenzo), Juan Zuniga (Napoli)
Midfielders: James Rodriguez (Monaco), Fredy Guarin (Inter), Aldo Ramirez (Monarcas Morelia), Abel Aguilar (Toulouse), Juan Cuadrado (Fiorentina), Carlos Sanchez (Elche), Juan Quintero (Porto), Alexander Mejla (Atletico Nacional)
Strikers: Victor Ibarbo (Cagliari), Teofilo Gutierrez (River Plate), Carlos Bacca (Sevilla), Jackson Martinez (Porto), Adrian Ramos (Hertha Berlin)