How much credit does a manager deserve? With results going in the right direction the plaudits are almost endless. Alternatively, when results go pear shaped the manager is almost certain to face the sack. For fans of Colombian Football, national team manager José Néstor Pékerman, has been almost a revelation of sorts. Whilst being appointed national team manager during a period of turmoil and turnover in the federation, Pékerman had replaced favorite son and former national team midfielder, Leonel Alvarez, of the storied “golden generation.”
With such a bold move by the federation in the argentine’s appointment, it is fair to say it wasn’t well received by all at first. In the Argentine’s current stint with the Colombian national team, Pékerman and his back room staff, have helped guide “Los Cafeteros” to qualification for this summer’s World Cup Finals, and a very respectable top ten position in the current Coca-Cola / FIFA world rankings.
Under the current regime, Colombian fans have enjoyed a sense of pride that has been missing since the storied “golden generation” of the late 1980s and early 1990s. During that period, the Colombian national team enjoyed arguably their best years. Highlighted with an impressive 5-0 thrashing of Argentina in Bueños Aires in a 1993 World Cup qualifying match. Consequently, with ambition comes disappointment, and following a good showing in Italy 1990 with a respectable round of 16 finish, Los Cafeteros failed to make it out of group play in both U.S.A. 1994 and France 1998 respectively. While many factors could be attributed (Drug cartels betting for and against the national team & kidnapping of squad members’ loved ones) to Colombia’s failures during the respective World Cups, the squad stayed together and unified even in defeat showcasing to all what is the Colombian spirit.
That sense of pride and spirit which is synonymous amongst it’s humble working class is what manager José Néstor Pékerman has to call upon to help erase the last 16 years of pain for the Colombian supporters. Having spent 4 seasons himself (1974-77) in Colombia as a midfielder for domestic powerhouse Independiente Medellín, the manager will already know what strings and emotions to drum up for his current players to understand the weight of the historic yellow shirt and the expectations it carries. That being said, the manager was able to guide his Cafeteros in their explosive 4-2-2-2 formation through qualification making a statement of intent along the way. Showing strong midfield play, disciplined defence, and killer finishing in front of goal. Los Cafeteros turned Baranquílla’s Estadio Metropolitano Roberto Meléndez or “El Metro” as it’s commonly known, into a fortress during their qualification. By only conceding 12 goals throughout all of the qualification, only Argentina had a better goal defence, ensuring that the visiting teams also saw Baranquílla as an extremely tough place to play.
Conversely, this current generation of Colombian players haven’t wasted their opportunities representing their country. A brief look into the squad’s starting XI and players like James Rodriguez of A.S. Monaco come to mind first. As Rodriguez continues to show his ability as an elite #10 in European football, forwards Jackson Martinez of F.C. Porto, and Adrian Ramos of Hertha Berlin (joining German Bundesliga runners up Borussia Dortmund next season) continue scoring goals for their respective clubs.
With creativity in midfield, a disciplined hard nosed defensive anchor is needed; enter Colombian defensive midfielder Freddy Guarín. The Inter Milan star midfielder, is a combination creative attacking midfielder that also can play as holding midfielder doing all the dirty work. A combative, creative, and physically robust player; Guarín continues to dazzle his Nerazzurri supporters at the San Siro on a weekly basis.
Los Cafeteros are facing a bit of a fitness scare with A.S. Monaco star striker Radamel Falcao, as he is coming back to full fitness from a severe knee injury he suffered in a Coupe de la Ligue match with A.S. Monaco back in February. With “El Tigre” at centre forward, it allows the Colombians a healthy amount of space and time in the attacking third, because defenders are mindful to mark Falcao knowing he could finish a half chance into goal at any moment. Still, such is the depth in the forward line, that the aforementioned Martinez and Ramos or even speedy attacker Carlos Bacca, from current Europa League winners Sevilla FC, could deputize at the iconic number 9 position.
As we near the start of group play in the World Cup, Colombian fans from Baranquílla, Medellin, Cali, Bogota, and allover will most definitely be anxiously waiting for their national side to have a good showing and get all three points against their opening group opponents Greece.