Colombia are more than just Rodriguez
Coach Pekerman's team play better samba soccer than Brazil
BRAZIL V COLOMBIA
Tomorrow, 4am, SingTel mio TV Ch 141 & Starhub TV Ch 223)
The golden boys of the 2014 World Cup continue to shine. In front of thousands of their own fans, these yellow-shirted heroes have captivated the world with their effervescent football. The only surprise is that they're Colombian, not Brazilian.
Thousands of Colombian fans have poured into Brazil, filling the stadium with yellow shirts and noise. And while Luiz Felipe Scolari's men toil unspectacularly, Jose Pekerman's dark horses are galloping for the finishing line.
The Argentine coach has turned Colombia into one of the most impressive sides at this World Cup, and all without their star player.
When Radamel Falcao was injured playing for Monaco in January, it seemed that all hope was lost. How would a team that was already unfancied cope without their world class striker? The answer, it seems, was to release their world class attacking midfielder.
With Teo Gutierrez manfully working the lines, James Rodriguez has been allowed to take advantage of the space around the penalty area. And it has cost Colombia's opponents dearly. Neymar isn't the only superstar at this World Cup.
Brazil have had problems with their midfield since the tournament began. Sometimes, it seems as if they have a vertical line of midfielders, rather than a row and the gaps available for plunder can be vast.
With Thiago Silva and David Luiz so keen to attack the ball rather than hold their position, Rodriguez is likely to enjoy himself, especially as combative midfielder Luiz Gustavo, one of the few Brazilian players to perform anywhere near his best, is suspended.
But Colombia are more than just Rodriguez. Alongside him, Juan Cuadrado, the fleet-footed winger from Fiorentina, has been in exceptional mood as well.
Cuadrado isn't just quick, he's clever too and he has the ability to ruin the afternoon of any fullback in the world. Jackson Martinez, who struggled to score in qualifying, has found his range and at the back, Mario Yepes is a formidable foe.
Yepes has been a fixture in European football for over a decade, but he goes into every game now knowing that it could be his last.
Aged 38, he decided before the tournament that he wanted to bow out immediately after the World Cup. And yet the way he has played suggests that he could easily play on for at least another season. With so many players in such excellent mood, it's no surprise that Colombia have enjoyed great success in this tournament.
Pekerman, however, has grim memories of his last game at this level. As Argentina manager in 2006, he had lit up the opening stages of the tournament with a similarly exciting and attacking team, but their run would end in the quarter-finals.
Leading Germany by a single goal with 20 minutes to play, Pekerman withdrew the talented playmaker Juan Riquelme and replaced him with Esteban Cambiasso in a bid to shut the game down. But Germany scored soon after and went on to win the penalty shoot-out. Pekerman resigned soon afterwards.
Don't expect Rodriguez to be replaced tomorrow morning.
There is a poignant mood around the camp this week as well as the 20th anniversary of the death of Andreas Escobar is sombrely marked. Escobar was a part of the highly-rated 1994 squad, tipped by Pele to take the World Cup by storm.
Instead, Colombia flopped, Escobar scored an own goal and shortly after he returned home, he was shot and killed.
While the best tribute to Escobar would be for all of football to remember that football is merely a game, you can't help thinking that a Colombian victory over Brazil would be a nice touch too. They are more than capable of delivering.
The Argentine coach (Jose Pekerman, left) has turned Colombia into one of the most impressive sides at this World Cup, and all without their star player (Radamel Falcao).
- Iain Macintosh
Cuadrado isn’t just quick, he’s clever too and he has the ability to ruin the afternoon of any fullback in the world.
- Iain on Juan Cuadrado
...The way he has played (aged 38) suggests that he could easily play on for another season.
- Iain on Mario Yepes