World Cup 2014: Jose Pekerman keeps cool as Colombia rocket up the popularity charts

 

It would be easy enough, at Colombia’s first World Cup finals since 1998, with their best generation of players for 20 years, to get carried away. With their tens of thousands of travelling fans, their joyous football and gleeful, dancing celebrations, Colombia have been one of the brightest attractions of the first week of the World Cup, and will continue to be so on into the knockout rounds.

But coach Jose Pekerman, the 64-year-old Argentine who has presided over the transformation of Colombia’s fortunes, is staying level-headed, even after the 2-1 win over Ivory Coast on Thursday, combined with Japan’s draw with Greece, sealed qualification for the last 16 and, probably, top spot in Group C.

“We still have to face Japan, who are going to grow in their game and are capable of fighting for qualification,” said the modest Pekerman on Thursday night in Brasilia. “We will see how we deal with it as we move on.”

Thursday was a special day in Colombian football. They were facing their strongest rivals in the group and, in a game that was in the balance throughout, overcame them in the second half with goals from thrilling youngsters James Rodriguez and Juan Quintero. After the  0-0 draw between Japan and Greece ensured their passage through to the last 16, only two unlikely results on Tuesday evening would stop them winning the group. One point, against Japan in Cuiaba, would be enough.

 

That would mean a last-16 match against the runners-up in England’s Group D at the Maracana next Saturday night. The golden generation of Carlos Valderrama and Faustino Asprilla, of whom much was expected, did not get out of their group at the 1994 or 1998 tournaments. The current players, new on this stage, and the travelling fans, after 16 years of waiting, must be excited. Pekerman, though, is staying calm.

James Rodriguez (centre) celebrates after scoring Colombia’s first goal in their 2-1 win over Ivory Coast James Rodriguez (centre) celebrates after scoring Colombia’s first goal in their 2-1 win over Ivory Coast (EPA)
“It is, of course, a huge pleasure to see Colombia coming to this level, first of all at the World Cup after such a long period of time, and then having enjoyed two consecutive victories with players who are here for the first time, so they are all very positive situations for us. However, we cannot start thinking ahead of time or what might be coming later on.”

Colombia have excellent players, especially going forward, but Pekerman’s cool experience has held them all together. No one in the squad has been to a World Cup finals before, but Pekerman has, coaching Argentina in 2006, and it has rubbed off. “He has helped us so much,” said Rodriguez after the Ivory Coast game, “he always wants us to play well.”

Rodriguez has been at the heart of everything good that Colombia have done so far. The little midfielder, who plays for Monaco, is the  No 10 within the 4-2-3-1 system, unleashing the pace out wide of Juan Cuadrado and Victor Ibarbo, as well as arriving late into the box to score himself. Rodriguez made the first and scored the third against Greece, and on Thursday scored the first and made the second.

It has been an impressive assumption of responsibility from the 22-year-old, reacting to the absence of Radamel  Falcao by becoming the new leader of the team. Pekerman is certainly impressed with how his players have stepped up with their talismanic striker ruled out with a knee injury. “It is not easy to substitute someone who was so important,” said Pekerman. “The high responsibility, the pressure of replacing Falcao represented a certain uncertainty.”

Teofilo Gutierrez is not a world-beater up front but he has worked hard for the team, and Pekerman has Jackson Martinez, Carlos Bacca and Adrian Ramos to call on from the bench. They have talent going forward, certainly, and experience at the back. Mario Yepes, the oldest outfield player at this World Cup, earned his 100th cap on Thursday and did so shackling Wilfried Bony, Gervinho and Didier Drogba with all his nous and skill.

Yepes, the captain, is a veteran of 38 but even he was not playing when Colombia last reached the knockout round, at Italia ’90, when they lost to Cameroon. These are exciting times, although Pekerman has always promised to stay cool. “Colombia waited a long time to play in a World Cup,” he said. “The players are new to this, we need to keep calm.”

Sport
footballHe started just four months ago
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect