While the prolific Radamel Falcao has been included in Colombia’s 30-man provisional squad, there is great doubt as to whether or not he will be fit enough to take part in the tournament, or at least the group stage.
Realistically, even at 50% fitness Colombian talisman Falcao will be making the trip to Brazil. How much he will physically be able to contribute is another matter. Here I investigate the key statistics of the men that will be expected to fill Falcao’s sizeable boots should he fail to step onto Brazilian turf this summer.
With twelve starts, one sub appearance and six goals during Colombia’s World Cup qualifying campaign, Teofilo Gutierrez is an almost guaranteed starter for Los Cafeteros this summer. A cult figure in the country, Gutierrez currently lines out for River Plate in Argentina.
He has played 27 times for the club this season, scoring 7 goals in River Plate’s run to the Primera Division final. While Gutierrez is playing a lower level of club football than some of his counterparts, his scoring record during qualifying for the World Cup speaks for itself. Should Falcao not pull through, the scoring hopes of a nation will rest heavily on this man’s shoulders.
20 goals in 30 appearances highlights what an excellent season Jackson Martínez has had for Porto, and explains why he is regularly cited as being tracked by Europe’s elite in the transfer rumour mill. With only seven appearances during Colombia’s qualifying campaign, three of those off the bench, Martínez was not given much chance to shine and didn’t manage a single goal for his country.
However, he would seem the natural choice for replacing Falcao in Jose Pekerman’s line-up. Physically imposing and oozing goal threat, the Porto star has all the attributes to make a name for himself in Colombia’s two-man forward line at the World Cup.
A man who only made one appearance for Colombia during qualifying but has shown huge potential in one of top European Leagues is Adrian Ramos. Plying his trade for Hertha Berlin in the Bundesliga, Ramos managed an impressive 16 goals in 32 overall appearances, only 4 short of top scorer Robert Lewandowski. This is particularly impressive considering Hertha only managed 40 goals in the entire season.
Interestingly, next season Ramos will be tasked with replacing the Polish hitman after it was announced he will join Borussia Dortmund in the summer. Whether or not he gets his chance to shine on the world stage remains to be seen, but look out for this marksman come Champions League time next season.
With 14 league goals and 4 goals in a Europa League winning campaign, Carlos Bacca has had a magnificent season. One start and two sub appearances during qualifying for Colombia however puts him somewhat down the pecking order for his national team. He has proven his prowess this season playing against some of Europe’s elite, and show that with a master craftsman playing behind him he can become very effective.
James Rodriguez can certainly provide the kind of chances Bacca latches onto from Ivan Rakitic at Sevilla, and should Bacca lose his penchant for being caught offside, he could yet have a part to play in Colombia’s World Cup campaign, even though it looks extremely likely he will begin the tournament warming the bench.
Finally, Luis Fernando Muriel’s place at the tournament will most likely be decided by Falcao’s ability to make the 23-man squad. Should ‘El Tigre’ pull through, Muriel will probably be watching the tournament at home. With only 4 goals in 24 appearances for Udinese this season and one sub appearance during the qualifying campaign, his chances of appearing in Brazil seem extremely slim with a wealth of talent ahead of him in the queue for one of Pekerman’s forward slots.
With it seemingly very likely that Gutierrez will make the starting eleven for at least Colombia’s opening game against Greece, the real question for Jose Pekerman is who will partner him should Falcao not be pitch ready. Realistically, Colombia would expect to beat a weak Greece side even without their star man, so this match could provide the perfect platform for any of the four (Gutierrez, Martinez, Ramos and Bacca) to stake their claim as Colombia’s second forward should Falcao make the other group games.
While Los Cafeteros will certainly expect to get out of Group C, they will almost definitely face one of Uruguay, England and Italy in the last 16. Whichever of these ties may occur, they will certainly be games decided by very tight margins. Finding the in-form, goal-scoring, possibly Falcao-replacing forward from this list of excellent strikers could be the key for Colombia to reach the promised land of the World Cup Quarter-Finals.
Colm Hayes, Pundit Arena.
Sources: whoscored.com, squawka.com, fifa.com, Wikipedia.org (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_FIFA_World_Cup_qualification_(CONMEBOL)), espnfc.com, soccerway.com, bbcfootball.com