Can Rodriguez, Quintero lead Colombia to make breakthrough in Russia? (Team Profile)

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Bogota, June 6 (IANS) James Rodriguez, 26, and Juan Quintero, 25, are the leaders of Colombia’s golden generation as they try to go further than the quarter-finals at the upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia.

Head coach Jose Pekerman could be the key to this achievement. If the Argentine steersman can keep his winning formula in crucial games, the Colombians may improve the quarter-final result at Brazil 2014, reports Xinhua news agency.

Colombia came through as the No.4 team in the South American qualifiers and hadn’t earn their ticket to Russia until the last game against Peru, where they drew 1-1.

However the current squad is the best they’ve had since the 1990s. Rodriguez and Quintero can be compared to former greats like Carlos Valderrama and Faustino Asprilla.

Under Pekerman’s reign, Colombia ended their 16-year absence from the tournament and had their best ever performance in a World Cup at Brazil 2014. They won all three group matches and beat Uruguay 2-0 in the round of 16, before losing to hosts Brazil in the quarters.

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Rodriguez won the golden boot by scoring six goals and also took home the goal of the tournament award. Teammate Juan Cuadrado provided more assists than any other player at the tournament.

Rodriguez is more mature than four years ago and is now probably in the form of his life at Bayern Munich. He will be the playmaker able to float freely in Colombia’s 4-2-3-1 formation.

Quintero is Rodriguez’s substitute with a similar style of attacking play. The River Plate player has a magical left foot and has the all-round skill to be a great playmaker.

Abel Aguilar and Carlos Sanchez are two strong central midfielders; Sevilla’s Luis Muriel and Juventus’ Cuadrado are sharp on either flank, while Wilmar Barrios and Edwin Cardona of Boca Juniors are good substitutes.

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Up front, “Los cafeteros” will have their experienced captain Radamel Falcao, who scored 18 goals in the French Ligue 1 this season for Monaco. Carlos Bacca from Villarreal will be Falcao’s understudy.

Colombia have Milan’s Cristian Zapata, Tottenham’s Davinson Sanchez and Barcelona’s Yerry Mina in the heart of their defence. Boca’s Frank Fabra will be the left back and PSV Eindhoven’s Santiago Arias will play on the right.

Arsenal’s David Ospina will be the starting goalkeeper. With a strong squad, Colombia may have an advantage over their Group H opponents Senegal and Japan although they will have to be wary of a strong Polish outfit.

If Pekerman sticks with the 4-2-3-1 formation and the tight-pressing, patient attacking approach, Colombia can compete with strong sides like England or Belgium in the round of 16.

However, the 68-year-old manager has had some questionable tactical choices in key matches in the past and has a habit of not sticking with winning formulas.

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One of the cases is the quarter-final against Germany at the 2006 World Cup, when Pekerman lead a promising Argentinian side.

Argentina took the lead through some convincing play by Juan Roman Riquelme, but Pekerman became conservative and took the player off in the second half.

“La albiceleste” lost their advantageous situation after the change and lost to the hosts in a penalty shootout.

When coaching Colombia, Pekerman has tried to change his winning style in some instances in World Cup qualifiers. This has led to poor performances, which was also questioned by the media.

So if the Argentine learned something from the past and sticks to the current formula, Colombia has the strength and potential to make a historic breakthrough in Russia.

–IANS

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