Saturday 7 December 2019

Pressure off Cafeteros as James Rodriguez and Co seek a Brazilian scalp in Castelao

Colombia midfielder Juan Cuadrado says the key to his side's starring role at the World Cup so far is that 'we do not compromise'. Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images
Colombia midfielder Juan Cuadrado says the key to his side's starring role at the World Cup so far is that 'we do not compromise'. Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images

Tim Rich

Brazil do not lose easily. Of the last seven teams to have knocked them out of a World Cup, six have gone on to reach the final. That, in itself, is a measure of the task facing Colombia tonight.

Colombia have no pedigree and very little history. If you had to select their finest World Cup hour before arriving in Brazil, you would probably go for the 4-4 draw with the Soviet Union in 1962, when they found themselves three down after 11 minutes. They still finished bottom of their group.

Before the tournament began, you would have given the Cafeteros (literally the coffee drinkers) little chance in the great bowl of the Estadio Castelao.

When Radamel Falcao broke down while playing for Monaco, you would have given them none at all.

And yet there is every reason to suppose that, as they prepare for the match of their lives, Colombia can win.

"The key to this game is that we do not betray our style; that we do not compromise," said Fiorentina midfielder Juan Cuadrado, who has provided more assists than anyone else, even Lionel Messi.

They will enter the Castelao with something more precious than history – form and momentum.

Jose Pekerman's side are the only quarter-finalists who have reached this stage of the tournament without breaking sweat, let alone shedding tears – as most of Brazil's squad seem to have done.

In the lithe shape of James Rodriguez, they have the competition's leading goalscorer. The question must be whether Colombia and Pekerman's nerve will hold.

In 2006, when he was in charge of a powerful Argentina side facing the host nation in a quarter-final, it did not. Leading by a single goal in Berlin's Olympic Stadium, Pekerman – who had put Messi on the bench – withdrew his playmaker, Juan Roman Riquelme, and tried to play out time. Miroslav Klose ensured he failed.


This time, Pekerman, who accepted Colombian citizenship on the eve of the tournament, is likely to be truer to his values.

Speaking about the confrontation with Brazil in the wake of Colombia's remarkably straightforward defeat of Uruguay at the Maracana, Pekerman said: "If a team has a lot of talent but has immense pressure on them to win, then sometimes they find themselves unable to play to their level.

"Then the competition becomes interesting because a team, like ourselves, with fewer individual stars, can disturb the balance of their play."

Colombia possessed only one true individual star in the shape of Falaco but once his knee gave way, it forced Pekerman to become more inventive.

He had always liked to experiment, especially in games Colombia were expected to win, and without Falcao he switched formations continually with the side going from 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2 and sometimes back again.

Against Uruguay, Rodriguez cut in from the left and caused havoc. Against a Brazil side that has proved itself ponderous, and will be lacking Luis Gustavo in central midfield, the 22-year-old may do so again.

"There is no pressure on us now, none at all," said Rodriguez when reminded that Colombia had now gone further than at any World Cup in their history.

"Obviously, they have good players but they will have to watch us very closely because we have proved ourselves very dangerous.

"Whatever happens it will be a beautiful match and something extraordinary for us to play in."

The victory at the Maracana sent Colombia into spasms of emotion that, as it always seems to, spilled over into violence.

The government has imposed an alcohol ban when Colombia are playing which has caused a flood of border crossings for those who want to toast the success of the Cafeteros with something stronger than coffee. (© Independent News Service)

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