How Colombia will play Brazil
SAO PAULO -- As if to harmonise with the nerves their fans have been feeling since their victory over Uruguay, the Colombian players are already making their way to Fortaleza, where on Friday they will face Brazil in the quarterfinals of the World Cup.
Three days before the match, the squad left its base in Cotia and set off for the northernmost stadium in the World Cup. On Tuesday, before the journey, it trained in Sao Paulo. Although there are no certainties in the starting XI, it is possible to speculate about the team that will face the hosts.
It is clear that the first-choice goalkeeper will be David Ospina. The Nice player has been outstanding in the four games played and is one of the pillars of the Colombia team. He transmitted a great feeling of security and averted several goals. On Tuesday, Camilo Vargas praised his teammate at a news conference.
"I'm happy for the way David has played, firstly because of the great person he is and for how important he has been," Vargas said. "He's been an essential player since qualification."
In defence there shouldn't be any changes either. Pablo Armero and Juan Camilo Zúñiga will be the fullbacks, and Mario Yepes and Cristian Zapata now have a solid partnership.
Carlos Valdés was the other key man in the news conference, and he had only praise for team captain Yepes.
"He's a great person, a leader and a teammate," Valdes said. "His career and how far he has come are proof of what he has been and what he is now for us."
Abel Aguilar and Carlos Sánchez will continue as defensive midfielders in tandem. The game against Uruguay was the high point of this partnership, and against Brazil their work will be key. The holding role Sánchez will have against Neymar will be important in Fortaleza, while Aguilar must keep his precision when bringing the ball out in order to hurt Brazil.
The two most outstanding performances in this World Cup for a team whose main strength is its togetherness have been those of Juan Cuadrado and James Rodríguez. As such, it's clear that both will be in the lineup. The pace and dynamism of the Fiorentina player on both flanks were two of the Colombian strengths in the first four games. Meanwhile, Rodríguez is the best player in the tournament. It's as simple as that.
Up front is where coach José Pekerman may have his only doubt. Far from the solidity that they appeared to show prior to the competition, Brazil have been weak in defence, insecure and with several collective problems. Only David Luiz has played well, while Thiago Silva, Dani Alves and Marcelo have shown a marked lack of confidence. They more than anyone have felt the pressure of responsibility.
The work of the Colombian forwards will therefore be essential in exploiting their opponent's mistakes. Teófilo Gutiérrez is one of Pekerman's favourites and will almost certainly continue to be the centre forward. It is true that he doesn't have the presence in the opposition area of other attackers, but the ability to go back and link up play may be important so the defenders don't have a clear person to mark.
Who plays with him is the doubt, at least for the press, just days from the match. Víctor Ibarbo played well in the group stage, but Jackson Martínez was so good against Japan that he took his place. He started against Uruguay, and although he didn't have any great scoring chances, he played well.
Against Brazil could be a good chance to see Ibarbo. Behind the fullbacks is Brazil's weak point, and the speed of the Cagliari forward is the best thing to exploit that. Carlos Bacca is also available again after recovering from his injury. If he finishes as well as he did before the World Cup, he's another more than acceptable possibility.
The Colombian team is now in Fortaleza, where it will play the biggest game in its history. The 11 players who are eventually chosen will surely uphold the name of the national team.