I spoke to Simon Edwards regarding Colombia and their hopes in the 2018 World Cup.
The final 23 man squad has now been confirmed, are you happy with the decision or would you have done something different?
The most notable omission from the final 23 is Edwin Cardona, who has been a key player in qualifying.
Currently with Boca Juniors, Cardona is somewhat divisive but is clearly a player with a lot of quality. Technically excellent, he can score some spectacular long-range goals and create openings, cutting in from the left and slipping some key passes.
His absence is a clear indication that Pekerman wants pace and directness from his left-wingers, while Juan Fernando Quintero’s superb form coming off the bench for River Plate provides a perfect blueprint for his role in Russia. Cardona was also suspended for a racist gesture against South Korea, which was embarrassing for the side and meant he missed the decisive final two friendlies before the squad selection.
I would also have liked to have seen Duvan Zapata get the nod ahead of Carlos Bacca in attack. While Bacca has been performing well in Spain, his national team form has been terrible; with Falcao out injured he played every game for a year but didn’t score. I don’t see Bacca providing the goalscoring threat Colombia will need from their substitutions, while Duvan has provided a perfect foil for Falcao given his physicality and strong link play.
What are your thoughts on your group opponents? Any players you are concerned about?
While Colombia’s draw could have been far worse, all of their rivals will provide a different challenge in Russia.
Colombia will probably start with the strong, imposing and athletic pair of Davinson Sanchez and Yerry Mina. While they are very impressive players, a lack of experience could mean a momentary lapse in concentration, which could prove fatal against Lewandowski. His sharpness in the box combined with some dangerous wingers could make Poland a threat on the counter.
Japan are always tactically and technically sound, so this will again mean Colombia need to be smart and disciplined. I would expect the physicality and invention to be enough, but they will need to keep their shape when they lose possession.
Colombia have a lot of pace and power across the side, but this will be matched by Senegal which, again, will provide a different sort of challenge. Colombia will need to win the midfield battle and be careful that their attacking fullbacks aren’t exposed by the pace of Senegal.
How would you like to see the team line up for the opening game?
The biggest issue Colombia have is that it is very difficult to get the best from Falcao and James Rodriguez in the same team, without leaving the side defensively exposed.
Falcao is a super goalscorer and excellent at attacking the ball in the box, however his hold up and link play is frankly awful. Prior to the 2014 World Cup, Colombia played with Teofilo Gutierrez close to ‘El Tigre’ to do a lot of his work and occupy the defence. This freed up Falcao to do what he does best. Falcao’s injury meant Colombia could switch to a 4-2-3-1, allowing James a free role and Cuadrado to stay high and wide.
Falcao would ideally like a strike partner, but that means James will either be required to stay further forward, which he won’t do, or do some disciplined defensive work, which he can’t do.
Colombia have created far more chances late in games when Falcao has been rotated, but while the likes of Borja and Bacca are far less likely to convert these opportunities.
I think a solid core and pace out wide is key for Colombia, so, while not ideal, I would go for a 4-2-3-1 with attacking fullbacks and a free role for James behind the striker.
Santiago Arias, Yerry Mina, Davinson Sanchez, Frank Fabra
Wilmar Barrios, Carlos Sanchez
Juan Cuadrado, James Rodriguez, Jose Izquieredo
How are expectations among the fans and media at home? What would be an acceptable tournament?
In 2014 Colombia were just overjoyed to once again be at a World Cup after a long absence. The players loved the experience, they performed well and Colombia celebrated every moment. The squad has changed a lot and the side in qualifying has looked disjointed. While not always at their best, they got the job done.
On paper, the squad is probably stronger than four years ago, but so much will depend rediscovering that team spirit and tactical balance.
The fans and media are a little concerned about the group, all sides Colombia could and probably should beat but who have the potential for an upset. The most important thing is to again make an impact, the target is to progress from the group and then make a splash against some of the more high profile sides in the knockout stages.
If there’s one player from your country that needs to be at his best for expectations to be met or exceeded, who is it?
James Rodriguez is at the heart of everything for Colombia – usually that is a good thing but sometimes it can be a problem. He is a superb passer and really gets the team ticking in the midfield. The issue is sometimes when he or the team is struggling he can overcompensate. He can drop too deep, hold onto the ball too long or try to force the play. James on form is a joy to behold and he already showed in 2014 that he can light up the biggest stage in world football.
The other key man is David Ospina. He has been superb for Colombia making many excellent reaction saves and keeping the side in games. However, in the past year that air of invincibility has faded and he has made some high profile errors. Colombia will need Ospina back to his best if they are going to make a big impact in Russia.
Is there anyone from your country who isn’t an already established name that you think might announce themselves in this tournament?
Colombia have three or four players who are on the verge of a big European moves and this World Cup will be the first chance for them to introduce themselves on the world stage.
Either Wilmar Barrios or Matheus Uribe may well start in defensive midfield for Colombia and both are wanted by big European sides. Matheus Uribe is a very versatile box to box midfielder, who is currently being tracked by Real Madrid. Uribe plays for Club America in Mexico as an attacking midfielder, but he is equally adept in a deeper role or even as a fullback. Barrios has become a fan favourite for Boca Juniors as a tenacious ball-winner, who is wanted by Tottenham and a number of clubs in Spain.
Attacking left-back Frank Fabra is in talks with Everton, while right-back Santiago Arias is likely to move to Serie A next season.
Yerry Mina has made an unconvincing start to his time at Barcelona, but he has been superb for Colombia and the towering central defender could change some opinions in Spain with a dominant performance in Russia.
How far do you expect to get in the Finals?
I am confident that Colombia can progress from their group and then they will probably play either England or Belgium in the second round. I believe Colombia have a significantly stronger squad than England but will face potentially superior opposition in Belgium. Belgium would be a huge test, if they get through that second round then everything else is a bonus. The quality is there and the pace out wide they will cause any side in the tournament problems.
Making it to the quarterfinals would be a good showing and if Colombia get that far then anything could happen.
I recently wrote an article about Andres Escobar and the events that led to his death in 1994. Is he still remembered in Colombian football circles or is it something that people prefer not to talk about?
Andres Escobar is still considered by Medellin fans to be the ‘ídolo eterno’ (eternal idol) of the club. The 1989 Nacional shirt with the number 2 on the back is still one of the most popular items in the club shop and there are still banners celebrating his contribution. While around the world his name is associated with a tragedy, those in Medellin are still able to celebrate his contribution to the club and his qualities as a man.
If it’s not your country that wins the tournament who would you like to see win?
I would love to see another South American side win it and perhaps my favourite winner would be Uruguay. There is so much to respect about a tiny country that consistently produces world class talent and that has a clear footballing identity. This year around they still have the dangerous pair in attacking and the solid pair in defence, but there is also a new generation of classy young midfielders to make the side far more complete.
Uruguay should play some nice stuff in a very easy group and if they build some momentum could be outsiders to win it.
Give us a prediction for the winners and top scorer in the tournament?
Tite has worked wonders with Brazil and they really look like a strong, balanced side with some excellent quality in attack. Their evolution since 2014 has been incredible and they for me may be the team to beat.
I think Uruguay could score for fun in the group stage and either Suarez or Cavani could be miles ahead before we even get to the second round.
This article originally appeared on gj2018worldcup.wordpress.com, where you can find a definite World Cup guide.