Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Colombia looking for inspiration

Following recent heavy defeats to Portugal and Argentina, the pressure will be on Vicente Del Bosque’s World Cup winners to get back to winning ways against Colombia, so what can they expect from their South American opponents?

It is fair to say that La Selección shouldn’t be on the end of a four goal drubbing this time round. Colombia are not as strong as Spain’s recent friendly opponents and have struggled in recent times.

The golden generation of the 1990′s that featured Carlos Valderama, Faustino Asprilla and René Higuita has long gone. Without them so have the results and success on the international stage. Colombia haven’t qualified for the last two World Cups and have slipped considerably down the hierarchy in South American football. In particular, they, along with Bolivia and Peru, have been caught up and in some cases usurped by the one time whipping boys Venezuala and Ecuador.

However, the national side still has a smattering of talent plying their trade around Europe. Indeed a couple of players who will line up at the Bernabéu will be very familiar to fans of La Liga. Hércules’ Abel Aguilar and Atelti’s Luis Perea (warning Atleti fans, they are NOT as bad as this makes them sound) are expected to start for Los Cafeteros.

There are also some signs that Colombian football is beginning to find its feet after a period in the doldrums. The under-20 side have made it thorugh the first group stage at the South American Championships currently being held in Peru and manager, Hernán Darío Gómez, has selected a very young squad for the meeting with the World and European Champions. Perea and veteran Mario Yepes the only members over 30 from an 18-man squad. Indeed, excluding Perea and Yepes, the inexperience of Gómez’s squad is quite staggering with an average age of only 24 and an average of 16 appearances for their country.

Those most likely to make an impact at the Bernabéu - and at the Copa America later in the year - for the Colombians are Porto’s Fredy Guarín and Wigan Athletic’s Hugo Rodallega.

Guarín should start alongisde Aguilar in the centre of midifeld, although slightly deeper in what has become best known as the ‘Xavi role’. He first came to prominence in his native land with Envigado before short spells with Boca Juniors and St. Etienne saw him arrive in Portugal where he has made a real impression this season. Aided by the departure of Raul Meireles to Liverpool, Guarín has had significantly more playing time this season than the previous two as a resurgent Porto side have cruised through the first half of the season unbeaten.

And with Guarín’s Porto colleague, Radamel Falcao, missing out through injury it will be left to Wigan’s Rodallega to lead the line. With eight goals in 35 games for his country, Rodallega’s form at international level mirrors that of his time in England - not always consistent but very good on his day. His pace and strength could cause problems for a Spanish defence missing Carlos Puyol.

With Gómez outlining his intention to keep things tight, Rodallega will probably have to plough a lone furrow up front with Aguilar and Giovanni Moreno expected to support the attack on the rare occasions that the visitors have the ball.

Prediction: With the ageing legs of Yepes and the wobbly legs of Perea at the back, Villa, Torres and Pedro should have a field day. After a string of decent results in friendlies, positive progress towards the Copa America is likely to come to an abrupt halt for Gómez’s men. 3-0 Spain.

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