World Cup 2014: Jose Pekerman’s Colombia can outstrip the class of 1990

 

Colombia have their sights on the last 16 already, and beyond that a quarter-final probably against Brazil, but first they must confirm their status as winners of Group C tonight.

It would take an unlikely combination of results for Colombia to finish second: they would need to lose badly to Japan in Cuiaba while Ivory Coast beat Greece comfortably in Fortaleza. The latter result is plausible but the former is not; Colombia have proven themselves an excellent team and can legitimately dream of going deep into the competition from here.

With the pace and skill of Victor Ibarbo and Juan Cuadrado on the wings, and the delicate direction of James Rodriguez in the middle, Colombia have been very good, proving themselves better than the celebrated teams of 1994 and 1998 who went out in the group stages. They have matched the achievements of the side who reached the last 16 in 1990 and could well exceed them.

Coach Jose Pekerman has been both cultivating and dampening these hopes, inspiring these players to play brilliant fluid football while not allowing expectations to spiral out of control.

“The memories are very well kept in our minds and our hearts,” Pekerman said of comparisons with the 1990 side. “We will not get carried away thinking we can go further than them. We still have a game against Japan to think about.”

If Colombia play as well as they did in their first two games, Japan should not cause them too many problems. They have a dogged, physical back-four which should prove too canny for the Japanese attackers, just as Greece’s defence did in Japan’s second game. At the other end of the pitch, Colombia can score goals against anyone, with Jackson Martinez and Juan Quintero, among talented others, waiting on the bench. One point will be enough to seal first place, and a meeting with the second-placed team from Group D.

Japan cannot win the group but if they did pull off an unlikely win against Colombia today they could still finish in second place. They would need Ivory Coast to drop points against Greece, while avoiding being overtaken by Greece on goal difference.

 

It has been an underwhelming performance from Alberto Zaccheroni’s Japanese team so far. They took the lead against Ivory Coast through Keisuke Honda before folding in the second half when Didier Drogba came on, conceding two quick goals and losing 2-1. Against Greece they had more than enough of the ball but could not create chances in a goalless draw. Colombia will be no kinder today.

It would take a few surprises, then, for Ivory Coast not to progress today and boost African representation in the knock-out phase. They have been impressive so far, playing two tight games, winning one 2-1 and losing the other by the same scoreline.

Coach Sabri Lamouchi is still leaving Didier Drogba on the bench, but as Wilfried Bony has been dangerous enough up front there is no obvious case to change. A victory for them would ensure progress, while putting pressure on Colombia for first place. A draw against a Greece side limited at the back and up front would probably be enough too.

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