32 Teams in 32 Days: Colombia
Group C | Greece | Ivory Coast | Japan
Colombia set up their professional league in the late 1940s -- by a coincidence, at a time when Argentina's players were on strike. Many of those leading players were lured north, meaning that Colombian football grew by carrying the mark of Argentina's great passing game from their golden era.
- 32 Teams in 32 Days: Country-by-country previews
- World Cup blog: Colombia
In that sense, the appointment of Jose Pekerman to manage the Colombia side made perfect sense. Bringing in Pekerman, who led his native Argentina to the 2006 World Cup, can be seen as Colombia getting in touch with their own footballing identity. They have been rewarded with a World Cup appearance.
Colombia's 2014 model will look to play patient possession football, waiting and searching for the appropriate moment to slip their dangerous strikers through on goal.
Colombia are set to make their fifth World Cup appearance, and their first since 1998. Of those four previous appearances, they advanced to the round of 16 just once (1990).
How they reached Brazil
Colombia began the qualifying campaign with former international midfielder Leonel Alvarez as manager of the team, but he was sacked after just three rounds (a win, a draw and a defeat). In came Pekerman. Once he added more creativity to the midfield, the international goals finally started to flow for star centre-forward Radamel Falcao Garcia.
For a while, Colombia were irresistible. Fourteen goals were scored over four consecutive wins, with the team's passing game looking especially impressive in the extreme heat of Barranquilla, the Caribbean port where they stage their home games.
They qualified comfortably, but their campaign does raise the concern that they peaked in 2012-13. After allowing just three goals in 10 rounds, Colombia let in six in their last three games, so there are a few creaks at the back as they head to Brazil.
The numbers never lie
Calculating a nation's passion for the game based on how well it pays its manager, attends its games and gets out to play:
Colombia have little history with any of their Group C opponents -- Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan. But for a group that is new to the World Cup (except for veteran reserve goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon), getting off to a good start against Greece is clearly vital.
But assuming they make it out of the group, Colombia's campaign will stand or fall by the outcome of their round-of-16 match, when the likely opposition would be Uruguay, Italy or England -- who ended Colombia's previous World Cup adventure in the group stage in 1998. Knocking out one of these former champions would do much to symbolize Colombia's arrival as a force to be taken seriously.
Most important player
The hype usually surrounds Falcao, but the star centre-forward is out of the World Cup with a knee injury. So James Rodriguez, Falcao's teammate at Monaco, is the most important to the cause.
Rodriguez, who will turn 23 on the eve of the World Cup title match, is a left-footed attacking midfielder who runs the pitch like a prince. Colombia's talented strikers have started scoring since his emergence; before, the lack of quality in the buildup play meant the chances were not coming. With his skill, strength and maturity, Rodriguez offers that bit of flair in the final 30 metres that can unlock the opposing defence.
Definition of success
Pekerman has said Colombia will take a definitive place at football's top table in this tournament, so the stakes are high.
Colombia are the seeded side in their group, so failure to make it to the knockout stage would be seen as a disaster and second-round elimination as a disappointment. Colombia have never reached the quarterfinals, but that is now the minimum requirement.
How far will Colombia go?
The quarterfinals would be no surprise; anything more is unlikely.
ESPN FC Analysts' take: Mario Kempes
Colombia have always had good players, but they lost confidence in the World Cup, last qualifying in 1998. With a strong CONMEBOL run, the team regained that spirit and now combines talent with strength and fight. Losing Falcao will be challenging, but Colombia have more than one great striker. Teofilo Gutierrez and Jackson Martinez have enough firepower to send Colombia through.
Colombia are very inexperienced on the big stage. How they respond if things go south remains to be seen. They qualified extremely well, but at the World Cup, the qualifiers no longer count. This is when you need to show a champion's character.