Copa America preview: Real Madrid’s James Rodriguez makes Colombia strong title contenders

If Colombia can keep up the momentum from last year’s World Cup they could challenge favourites Brazil and Argentina and hosts Chile if they get out of Group C and add to their only title, won on home soil in 2001.
Colombia midfielder James Rodriguez, right, gestures during a friendly football match against Costa Rica at Diego Armando Maradona stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina on June 6, 2015.  AFP PHOTO / Alejandro PAGNI
Colombia midfielder James Rodriguez, right, gestures during a friendly football match against Costa Rica at Diego Armando Maradona stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina on June 6, 2015. AFP PHOTO / Alejandro PAGNI

If Colombia can keep up the momentum from last year’s World Cup they could challenge favourites Brazil and Argentina and hosts Chile for the 2015 Copa America and add to their only title, won on home soil in 2001.

The chance to see the Colombians in competitive action for the first time since last year’s finals, where their free-flowing football made them one of the most entertaining of the 32 participants, should be one of the highlights in Chile.

Coach Jose Pekerman is still in charge and has kept the core of his squad together, minus central defender Mario Yepes who has retired from international duty.

Photo gallery: 12 Copa America players to watch

Pekerman will this time be able to call on striker Radamel Falcao, who missed the World Cup through injury.

However, his lacklustre season at Manchester United means he could find himself fighting with Jackson Martinez, Carlos Bacca and Teo Gutierrez for a place in the starting line-up.

The centre of defence remains a headache and, with Cristian Zapata, who played alongside Yepes in Brazil, struggling to get into a poor AC Milan side, Pekerman might instead opt for youngsters Eder Balanta and Jeison Murillo.

Another worry is in midfield where the absence of the injured Fredy Guarin is a significant blow.

Naturally, the form of attacking midfielder James Rodriguez, the inspiration behind the World Cup performance, will be key to Colombia’s hopes. After a season in the shadows of Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid, Rodriguez, 23, may thrive back in the spotlight, which will be good news for Colombia and the tournament as a whole.

Previous appearances 19 (first in 1947)

Best performance Winners: 2001

Draw Group C with Brazil, Peru and Venezuela

Fifa world ranking 4

Coach: Jose Pekerman

Pekerman made his name as a developer of talent when he won three successive world under-20 championships in charge of his native Argentina.

He was promoted to coach of the senior side after Marcelo Bielsa quit in 2004 and led them to the quarter-finals at the 2006 World Cup.

A former midfielder whose career was cut short by injury, he worked as a taxi driver before getting his chance as youth coach at Buenos Aires club Chacarita Juniors.

He followed that up with unremarkable stints at Mexican clubs Toluca and UANL and had been out of the game for three years before Colombia came calling in 2012. Taking over with the team in a difficult situation in the qualifying competition, he led them to the World Cup quarter-finals, their best-ever performance in the tournament.

Key player: James Rodriguez

A gifted attacking midfielder with a magical left foot, Rodriguez was the inspiration behind Colombia’s run to the last eight at the World Cup in Brazil last year.

He finished as the tournament top scorer after notching six goals in five matches, including a spectacular effort against Uruguay which was voted as FIFA’s best goal of the year.

Many felt that he, and not Lionel Messi, should have been given the Player of the Tournament award and it was on the back of those performances that Real Madrid signed him from Monaco.

He helped Banfield win their first Argentine league title as a teenager in 2009 and then moved to Porto where his potential became obvious.

Squad

Goalkeepers David Ospina (Arsenal), Camilo Vargas (Atletico Nacional), Cristian Bonilla (La Equidad)

Defenders Camilo Zuniga (Napoli), Santiago Arias (PSV Eindhoven), Carlos Valdes (Nacional de Montevideo), Cristian Zapata (AC Milan), Jeison Murillo (Granada), Pablo Armero (Flamengo), Pedro Franco (Besiktas), Darwin Andrade (Standard Liege)

Midfielders Alexander Mejia (Monterrey), Carlos Sanchez (Aston Villa), Edwin Cardona (Monterrey), Edwin Valencia (Santos), James Rodriguez (Real Madrid), Juan Guillermo Cuadrado (Chelsea), Victor Ibarbo (AS Roma)

Forwards Radamel Falcao (Manchester United), Carlos Bacca (Sevilla), Jackson Martinez (Porto), Teofilo Gutierrez (River Plate), Luis Fernando Muriel (Sampdoria)

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Published: June 10, 2015 04:00 AM

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