World Cup 2014: England’s prize may be formidable Colombia

Even without Radamel Falcao, the South Americans are turning on the style

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If there were fears that Colombia would not be the same without Radamel Falcao, that they would lose too much of their power up front to compete, they might have been dispelled by the ease of their opening 3-0 win over Greece in Belo Horizonte on Saturday.

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Colombia are back in action this afternoon against Ivory Coast in Brasilia. If they win they will be on the brink of confirming their passage into the last-16 and lining up a tie with a team from  Group D, which could, of course, be England.

Whoever does face Colombia in the knockout round would be misguided to think that the lack of Falcao, as well as that of Udinese forward Luis Muriel, deprives Colombia of attacking quality.

The performance orchestrated by veteran Argentine coach José Pékerman against Greece was a tactical  triumph. Lined up in a 4-2-3-1 system, Monaco’s brilliant No 10 James Rodriguez floated in between the lines, with wide players Juan Cuadrado and Victor Ibarbo running beyond him.

Rodriguez, who is known as James and could be one of the players of the tournament, set up the first goal with a diagonal ball out to Cuadrado. James burst forward, stepped over Cuadrado’s cutback and left-back Pablo Armero was there to finish the move off. Teó Gutiérrez of River Plate, chosen ahead of Porto’s Jackson Martinez to lead the line, scored the second before James scored the brilliant third from the edge of the box.

That was a near-perfect performance from Colombia but they have options too. Jackson Martinez is probably their best individual frontman, with enough pace, strength and skill to trouble most defences, and would certainly be a useful weapon if he started. He replaced Gutierrez for the last 15 minutes of their first game.

Pekerman could also turn to Carlos Bacca of Sevilla for a tough, hard-working target man, or to the athletic Adrián Ramos, who is joining Borussia Dortmund from Hertha Berlin.

Over the course of an international tournament, flexibility and options — the ability to win games in different ways — are more important than having a settled side.

Colombia might not have the strongest first XI but they have different ways to approach games and a manager not afraid to use them.

Pekerman said that it was his “saddest day” as Colombian coach when he was forced to leave Falcao out of the World Cup squad. But the players he has brought to South America are still full of quality and goals, and Colombia are the likeliest winners of Group C. If England get through thier group they could have an even harder knockout game next weekend.