Colombia are the darkhorses of the 2018 World Cup
It is often said that the CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifiers are the world's most difficult. The competition includes Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Uruguay, Colombia, Peru and Chile. So, whichever teams come out alive could have decent prospects of making a good World Cup.
That’s the case with Colombia. Led by Jose Pekerman, Los Cafeteros reached the 2014 World Cup quarter-finals. They have enough talent this time around to make an even deeper run on Russian soil.
Mark my words, everyone: Colombia can be considered a darkhorse candidate to win the 2018 World Cup.
Here are the reasons why no side will want to face Los Cafeteros in a potential knockout stage.
Experience between the posts
Say what you want about David Ospina, but the Arsenal goalkeeper has vast international experience. Earning 85 caps at just 29 years of age is not something easy to achieve. Ospina has settled nicely as the starter for Los Cafeteros. He is one of the most recognizable players on the side.
The other alternatives – Camilo Vargas and Jose Cuadrado – might not inspire a lot of confidence, yet both have a lot of games under their belts for respective clubs. Especially Vargas, who could have had a much better career had injuries not taken a toll on his development. At 29 and 32 years of age respectively, both have enough experience to be a suitable backup for Ospina.
An up-and-coming centre-back pairing; pace on the flanks
Moving a few metres further up the pitch, one of Colombia’s biggest strengths will be the centre-back pairing of Davinson Sanchez and Yerry Mina. The 21-year-old Tottenham Hotspur defender has already emerged as one of the best young defenders in the Premier League, and 23-year-old Mina enjoyed his first semester playing for FC Barcelona. No other team in the world has defenders playing at such a high level, at such a young age.
The Juan Camilo Zuñiga and Pablo Armero days are gone for Los Cafeteros, but they have an excellent full-back pairing for the World Cup. Left-back Frank Fabra (Boca Juniors) and right-back Santiago Arias (PSV Eindhoven) are two deadly weapons going forward. Both have what it takes to assemble a stellar defensive line.
A criminally underrated midfield
Mateus Uribe is one of the best box-to-box midfielders in the CONMEBOL – CONCACAF region. Wilmar Barrios is heralded as the best central midfielder in the Super Liga Argentina. Juan Fernando Quintero has regained his magical touch playing for River Plate, and Jefferson Lerma is a central midfielder full of talent with a whole season of European football under his belt.
Colombia has an insane amount of talent in the middle of the pitch, yet the whole football world has not noticed it. Expect Russia 2018 to be the coming-out party for most of these players.
As with most teams in the world, though, star players will have to perform. Colombia has two names that can respond: James Rodriguez and Juan Guillermo Cuadrado.
Forgotten at Real Madrid, it seems James’ best decision over the past 12 months was to join Bayern Munich. The former Monaco star did not exactly set the world on fire with his performances in the Bundesliga, but he proved that he was good enough to remain with the European champions. Cuadrado, meanwhile, enjoyed another stellar year at Juventus. Playing on the right-hand side, versatility is Cuadrado's calling card. His attacking runs on the wing are key for Los Cafeteros.
Alternatives to partner Falcao
This area seems to be Colombia’s biggest doubt right now. Radamel Falcao is the all-time leading scorer with 29 goals in 72 caps). He's also the captain, but no one knows who will be playing with him up front. Fortunately for Pekerman, the potential alternatives are all coming from decent seasons in their respective clubs.
Carlos Bacca scored 18 goals in 43 appearances for Villarreal. Luis Muriel registered nine goals in 44 matches, although he started roughly half of his games. Miguel Borja has eight goals in 11 matches for Palmeiras this season, including six strikes in six contests in the 2018 Copa Libertadores. And while Jose Izquierdo seems to be the odd man out in the equation, he still had five goals and three assists in 32 Premier League appearances.
The team’s depth speaks volumes. That kind of attacking firepower can take Colombia far in the World Cup. The talent is there, it just needs putting together when it matters the most.