World Cup 2014: Colombia national soccer team guide

COLOMBIA’S IMPRESSIVE RETURN TO THE WORLD CUP

After a 15-year hiatus that surely seemed a lot longer, Colombia are back in international soccer’s most prestigious competition. The Cafeteros are making their way back to a World Cup for the first time since 1998 and do so with a squad that is rich with dynamic attacking talent and could serve as a tournament dark horse. 

WORLD CUP PROSPECTS

Los Cafeteros looked primed for a deep World Cup run until star striker Radamel Falcao suffered a torn ACL in a French Cup game in January and was unable to recover in time for the tournament. Falcao's club teammate, James Rodriguez (a budding star in his own right), will now take the reins in Colombia's attack, and a knockout round appearance is still the minimum expectation, but dreams of a semifinal run may have been dashed before the tournament has even started.

GROUP C SCHEDULE

June 14: vs. Greece, Belo Horizonte
June 19: vs. Ivory Coast, Brasilia
June 24: vs. Japan, Cuiaba

STARS TO WATCH

James Rodríguez, M, AS Monaco: Rodriguez may still be young at the tender age of 22, but he looked anything but that during recent games. The midfielder showcased his good technical skills and creativity in qualifying, assets that make him a dangerous weapon in Colombia’s dynamic attack.

Fredy Guarin, M, Internazionale: An energetic, two-footed central midfielder with a powerful shot from distance, Guarin will be responsible for keeping things knit together in the center of the park. With 48 caps for Colombia, he is the most experienced player on the team in midfield or attack.

Mario Yepes, D, Atalanta: Despite turning 38 in January, Yepes is impressively still going strong. The Cafeteros captain anchored the backline that proved difficult to beat in qualifying, using his leadership, wealth of experience and solid defending skills to stymie opponents.

THE COACH

José Pekerman, hired as head coach of Colombia in January 2012, has worked his magic and guided the Cafeteros to their first World Cup in more than a decade. Making his job even more impressive is the fashion in which Colombia qualified, as the team looked strong defensively and dynamic and explosive in the attack.

Another plus for Pekerman, a 64-year-old Argentine who was a midfielder in his playing days, is that he has previous World Cup experience as a coach. He was at the helm of Argentina in 2006 when the albiceleste reached the quarterfinals, and since then has managed Mexican clubs Toluca and Tigres UANL.

HOW THEY QUALIFIED

WCQ record: 9-4-3, 30 pts. / 27 GF, 13 GA (second place in South America)

Colombia fell just short of finishing atop the CONMEBOL standings, two points shy of Argentina. But the Cafeteros had the stingiest defense in South American qualifying, allowing just 13 goals, and that combined with their explosive offense allowed for rather smooth (and impressive) sailing to Brazil.
 
WORLD CUP HISTORY

Fifth appearance

The Colombians are making their much-awaited return to the World Cup after last participating in France 1998. There is a real buzz around this team back home, primarily because of the exciting and dynamic brand of soccer the team plays under Pekerman.
 
MLS/USA CONNECTIONS
 
Colombian legend Carlos Valderrama spent the final few years of his career in MLS, playing for the Colorado Rapids and now-defunct Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion from 1996-2002. … Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja was born in Medellín, Colombia, and spent part of his playing career in his native land before finishing it out in MLS, and earned 11 caps for the Cafeteros. … Rapids midfielder Jaime Castrillón has played for Colombia’s national team 29 times. … US national team forward Juan Agudelo was born in Manizales, and midfielder Alejandro Bedoya is of Colombian descent. … Center back Carlos Valdés is currently on loan at Sante Fe from the Philadelphia Union, who also employed Faryd Mondragón in 2011. … There are several quality players who are from Colombia that currently play in MLS, including New York Red Bulls center back Jámison Olave, FC Dallas' Fabian Castillo and ex-FCD teammate David Ferreira and Portland Timbers midfielder Diego Chara.