Colombia and Greece kick off Group C on Saturday evening, with the Colombians looking to show that there is life after Falcao, and that they can still compete as major contenders in Brazil. The injury to their star man was no doubt a major blow, but Colombia can still boast a talented group of players, with the likes of James Rodriguez, Juan Fernando Quintero and Juan Cuadrado likely to play a major part. Finishing second in South American qualification is no mean feat, and this quick, energetic Colombian side could be dark horses on South American soil, and are likely to prove too much for an ageing Greek side.
Greece were unbeaten in their three World Cup warm-up games, with one win against Bolivia and two 0-0 draws against Portugal and Nigeria. This could be an indication of how this hard-working Greek side are likely to set-up, looking to frustrate and shut-out opponents. Captain Giorgos Karagounis is still an influential player, but at the age of 37 could be past his peak, and Greece will rely on Dortmund’s talented young defender Papasthopoulos to lead from the back. He will have his work cut out on Saturday however, as Fernando Santos’ men will struggle to fend off this powerful Colombian side, who will be looking to take three points from their group opener.
KICK-OFF: Saturday, 5pm
Colombia: Group C team profile
Colombia: Group C team profile
1/5 How they qualified
After narrowly missing out on qualification for the last three World Cups, Colombia made sure of their place in Brazil next summer with a storming campaign. Finishing just two points behind Argentina, the squad’s enhanced quality was the main reason for their new-found success. A comprehensive 4-0 victory over Uruguay last year set the tone for the rest of their campaign, as well as preventing Argentina from scoring in the goalless stalemate in Buenos Aires. Their impressive defensive record, which saw them concede just 13 goals in 16 qualifying matches, went hand-in-hand with their dangerous front three, consisting of Radamel Falcao, James Rodriguez and Teofilo Gutierrez.
Jose Pekerman has had a fairly quiet career, undertaking several youth coaching roles including a stint as Argentina’s Under-20 coach before, in 2004, becoming the senior side’s manager. After being knocked out of the 2006 World Cup by hosts Germany, he took on roles in Mexico with Toluca and Tigres before being named as Colombia’s new coach in 2012, succeeding Leonel Alvarez. The 64-year-old has transformed the team into an attacking force which maintains its defensive discipline, and it was surprising to see them concede three goals at home to Chile. Something must be said about the way Pekerman inspired the team to come back from 3-0 down to gain a point, although his tendency to tinker with formations has brought about some criticism.
3/5 Star man
Handed the unenviable task of standing in for the injured Radamel Falcao, James Rodriguez has become the man Colombia will depend on. Known for pulling the strings in the midfield, Rodriguez earned the nickname ‘the new kid’ because his playing style is comparable tothat of Colombia legend Carlos Valderrama. Rodriguez followed in his countryman Falcao’s footsteps when he signed for Monaco at the beginning of last season for a reported £36million. During his debut season he scored 9 goals in 34 appearances.
4/5 Emerging talent
Juan Fernando Quintero moved to FC Porto last summer from Pescara after months of speculation, and despite a disrupted start he is finding his feet in Portugal. His early season was marred by injury and on his return he struggled to get back into the Porto first team. He came back into the side under new manager Luis Castro, and has established himself as a useful creative outlet. He possesses the ability to execute a catalogue of passes with an impressive left foot, the diminutive play-maker, who can also play on the wing, has already made three appearances for his country after impressing at the Under-20 World Cup. Of course, he is limited to a bit-part role at present, but Quintero has the potential to make a real impact at the tournament.
5/5 Formation: (4-3-3)
Ospina; Zuniga, Yepes, Zapata, Armero; Aguilar, Guarin, Cuadrado; Rodriguez, Gutierrez, Jackson Martinez
Colombia 2 Greece 0, International Friendly, June 1994
These two teams have never met in a competitive match.
Greece have one of the oldest World Cup squads, with an average age of 28.5.
If Colombia’s substitute goalkeeper plays in this World Cup he will overtake Roger Milla as the oldest ever player to play at the World Cup finals, at the age of 42.
Greece’s Giorgos Karagounis will be making his 136 international appearance if he plays on Saturday.
Greece have six Serie A players in their squad, the third highest out of all the World Cup teams.
Greece only lost one game out of ten in 2013, coming in a 3-1 defeat against Bosnia & Herzegovina.
This will be Colombia’s first World Cup game since 1998.
Ten different leagues are represented in Colombia’s squad.
Colombia to win: 1.85
Greece to win: 5.00
TV: Live on BBC One at 5pm