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With the club season, both domestically in Colombia and abroad, put to bed, attention on this side of the world turns to the Copa América.
Chile provides what will be, um, the chilly venue for this year’s renewal. The winter weather apart, there are solid reasons for Colombian football followers to feel warm inside ahead of the tournament. Indeed, it could be argued that things have never been better for La Selección.
Last year, they had their best ever run at a World Cup, unluckily and controversially losing out to hosts Brazil at the quarter-final stage. The painful manner of that defeat aside, the second-half performance together with the previous four games did prove that Colombia can go toe to toe with the global superpowers. This is reflected in the Fifa (don’t snigger) world rankings, where the side remains in fourth spot, with third-placed Argentina the only South American side above them.
Plus, with the proven quality players they have at their disposal, José Pékerman’s side have the potential to go far. You also have the Radamel Falcao factor, who will be keen to put a disappointing loan spell at Manchester United behind him; there’s a belief in some quarters that back in the ‘comfort’ of the national set-up, El Tigre will be a far more potent animal than what we saw in England.
Even if he’s not, his presence around the squad is only beneficial for what is already a confident, tight-knit group. (For the record, he did score the only goal in Colombia’s recent friendly win over Costa Rica and looked relatively sharp.)
To keep that confidence high, a good start will be key. Yet the opener, a tussle with Venezuela, is far from straightforward. Remember, Colombia only took one point from six off their neighbours during their last meetings in the South American World Cup 2014 qualifiers. But the fact that Colombia made it to the finals while Venezuela watched from the sidelines should mean that the former is a much stronger proposition this time around.
A mouthwatering ‘revenge’ clash with Brazil also awaits in the group stages. However, it could be said that Colombia missed the boat 12 months ago to get one over the five-time World Cup winners. It’s unlikely Dunga’s men will be as fragile this time around.
Peru completes the group and while nothing can be taken for granted, Colombia should be taking three points from that game.
In any case, the way the draw is, finishing second in the group may not be such a bad thing as the likes of tournament favourites Argentina and perennial winners Uruguay could be avoided until the final, if Colombia were to get that far. On the flip side, a potential semi-final battle with hosts Chile would be no gimme to say the least. But if you want to be the best you’ve got to beat the best and all that.
It certainly promises to be an intriguing three weeks of football, with at least five teams that can be considered as genuine contenders to lift the trophy on July 4th.
Whether Colombia can emerge as South America’s top dog, we’ll have to wait and see. It’s time to let the football do the talking.
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