Yellow shirts, enthralling attacking play and rhythmic celebrations; for so long that’s been the narrative for Brazilian teams that have dazzled us all at the World Cup. But in their own backyard, there’s another team stealing the show.
While seven of the eight quarter-finalists in the 2014 World Cup were made to battle exceptionally hard for their place in the last-eight, Colombia progressed with a swagger. They swept aside Uruguay with a wonderfully effervescent performance, putting together a 90 minutes that was bristling with dynamism and impetus.
Jose Pekerman’s side have won all four of their games in so far in the competition. They’ve been the standout team at the Brazil finals and in James Rodriguez, they are in possession of the player of the tournament so far.
Next up they take on host nation in what’s set to be an encapsulating quarter-final clash. Here’s your full rundown when it comes to Pekerman’s Cafeteros team and a look at how they will fare against the tournament favorites.
Likely Line-Up vs. Brazil:
What have they done well?
While this team have been far from profligate at the back, it’s their forward forays that have really caught the eye so far. This Colombia team attack with sustained vigor and that makes it incredibly difficult for the opposition to keep the likes of James, Juan Cuadrado and Teofilo Gutierrez pinned down.
They can attack within a variety of different tactical blueprints too. Pekerman has utilized a host of different systems in the opening four games switching from 4-2-3-1, to 4-1-4-1 and against Uruguay to the 4-2-2-2 shape that they used throughout their successful qualifying campaign.
It means that if things aren’t going well, Colombia have the capability to shuffle the pack and move players into different positions. James and Cuadrado in particular are very adaptable and interchange with unnerving menace for opposition back-fours.
The two Colombian full-backs—Pablo Armero and Juan Zuniga—also push forward whenever they get a chance, making unyieldingly energetic vertical forays up and down the left and right flank respectively. The holding midfield duo of Sanchez and Aguilar cover the rampaging duo and the experienced centre-back duo of Mario Yepes and Cristian Zapata astutely.
Which players have shone?
Indisputably, the star man in the tournament so far has been Colombia’s playmaker James. He’s been simply scintillating, causing panic in the opposition’s defense either operating as an orthodox no.10 or from a wider role.
He’s a man that looks to be growing into the tournament too. The Monaco player’s contribution off the substitutes bench in Colombia’s win over Japan was outstanding, while his brace against Uruguay in the last-16—in particular his stunning first goal—was very special indeed.
Aside from Rodriguez, Cuadrado has also been massively impressive in his role on the right-hand side. He is wonderfully agile and offers a refreshingly raw option on the flanks. The Fiorentina man has shown that he is capable off coming off the line and influencing the play in central areas too, but he’s at his best with chalk on his boots, stretching the opposition both laterally and vertically.
A little further back, Carlos Sanchez has been excellent as a midfield anchor, shuffling across to cover the forays of Armero from left-back and getting the Colombian attacks going with short, sharp passing. Next to him, Abel Aguilar is a little more expansive in his play and he’s the player that has been able to find the likes of Cuadrado and Rodriguez in dangerous areas.
Where can they improve?
The concerns in this team are in the defensive areas. The centre-back pairing have been very comfortable in the tournament so far, but they’ve yet to come up against an attack of genuine quality. The team as a collective were able to cut off the service into Edinson Cavani by pinning the Uruguayan’s back in their last game, but they’ll come under a lot more pressure against Brazil.
Starving the likes of Neymar, Oscar and Hulk of the ball will be a lot more difficult here, and while centre-forward Fred has been a ponderous presence throughout the competition so far, the three attacking midfield players behind him could cause some problems if Colombia are a little short of their energetic best.
But at the moment, it’s mere nit-picking when it comes to Pekerman’s side who look the most complete team remaining in the World Cup. So far they’ve overcome every challenge they’ve faced with real distinction and if there are any glaring weaknesses in this team, we’ve yet to see them fully emerge.
What problems can they pose Brazil?
Here’s how the two sides are likely to line up for the quarter-final:
Going off what we’ve seen in the tournament up to now, Colombia can feel very confident of dumping out the hosts on their own patch. James, as you would expect, will be the talisman again, and his role will be of even greater significance when you consider Brazil will be without their star holding midfielder Luis Gustavo.
Without the Wolfsburg man—a player who has been one of Brazil’s star performers at this World Cup—James will be confident of finding a lot of space between the lines of this Selecao team, and if he can pick the ball up in those little pockets on the half-turn, then he’s shown he has the quality to punish any side.
Cuadrado will have a vital role to play too. He’ll be up against Marcelo down the Brazilian left-hand side and that’ll be an intriguing battle. The Real Madrid full-back loves to get forward, but if he’s a little too aggressive in his surges forward, Cuadrado can use his blistering speed to cause Brazil major problems on the break.
Play as they have been doing in their four games so far, it’s difficult to see anyone—even the host nation—stopping Colombia in their tracks. If Brazil can overcome this enterprising, vibrant outfit, then they’ll be more than worthy of their favorites tag, but the hosts will need to raise their game to a whole new level if they’re to triumph.