The more said about Colombia during the 2014 World Cup, the better - that's the feeling amongst fans and pundits alike. The South American nation has, unsurprisingly, taken the tournament by storm, with their brand of attacking football winning them the admirers they deserve. The 4-1 win over Japan on Tuesday took their goal tally to nine in the group stages, only the Netherlands (10) have netted more in the opening nine games, at the time of writing.
WhoScored featured an article on how Colombia are an attacking threat even without Falcao earlier this month and it's fair to say they have proven just that. Even without their talismanic striker on the frontline, José Pekerman's side have excelled, despite his goalscoring exploits en route to the finals. Only Luis Suarez (11) and Lionel Messi (10) netted more goals than Falcao (nine) in the CONMEBOL section of qualifying, so losing him for Brazil 2014 had the potential to scupper their hopes of glory.
Nevertheless, Colombia have prospered in his absence this summer, as evidenced in their commendable goal return to date. Much of that has been down to the impressive James Rodríguez. Big things were expected of the young midfielder in Brazil and he has lived up to the billing impressively. The Monaco star was the highest rated player in Group C (8.68), while his display against Japan from the bench was one of the finest at the competition so far.
In the second half of the 4-1 win over Japan, Rodríguez registered 2 assists and netted late on; his goal a wonderful solo effort culminating in a perfectly executed dink over Eiji Kawashima to round off a stunning 45 minutes. His cameo was the best rated substitute appearance (9.38) at the World Cup so far and if Colombia are to go the distance, the 22-year-old will be central to their progression beyond the last-16 stage.
However, it isn't just Rodríguez who has performed above and beyond for Colombia. Pekerman's side is teeming with offensive talent, even in the absence of Falcao. Adrián Ramos and Jackson Martinez, of Borussia Dortmund and FC Porto respectively, have struggled to make the Colombia starting XI, despite netting a combined 36 league goals between them last season.
Instead, Pekerman has favoured Teófilo Gutiérrez as the lone frontman in his preferred 4-2-3-1 system. Looking at their striking options, Carlos Bacca, who scored 14 and assisted five in La Liga for Sevilla last season, is yet to register a single minute of World Cup action, while Luis Muriel was axed from the 23-man squad altogether.
Even without Falcao, the choice of attacking personnel available to Pekerman is enough to rival any team at the competition. Martinez's double against Japan adds a further selection headache in attack, but facing a staunch Uruguay defence on Saturday with a place in the quarter-finals at stake, this dilemma is likely to be welcomed by Pekerman.
With Juan Guillermo Cuadrado and Victor Ibarbo, two players famed for their speed in attack, starting either side of Rodríguez in the wins over Greece and Ivory Coast, it's little wonder Colombia's offence is considered one of the most potent in Brazil. The latter can unlock a defence in the blink of an eye, but the former pairing is where their real strength in attack comes.
The pace of the duo has many believing Los Cafeteros are the best counter-attacking team at the tournament. Indeed only the Netherlands (six) have had more attempts on goal on the break than Colombia (five) at the World Cup, while only the Dutch (three) have scored more counter-attacking goals than their South American counterparts (two) this summer.
Soaking up opposition pressure, Colombia can instigate lightning quick breaks through Cuadrado and Ibarbo, and with Juan Zuñiga and Pablo Armero flanking the pairing from full-back, these attacks are often executed to devastating effect. Finding Rodríguez when looking to start a counter-attack is central to this, and if the youngster can be picked out by teammates, opposition sides are quickly swamped and are powerless to stop the ensuing move.
It's a relatively simple game plan adopted by Pekerman, but one that has proven to be effective, both in qualifying and at the World Cup. Even from open play situations, Colombia can make use of this speed in attack. Defensive midfielder Carlos Sánchez averaged the most tackles per game (4.5) of every Colombia player in the group stage, so his ability to win the ball back before an opposition attack can start further aids the team.
Having won the ball deep in his own half, it's likely opposing sides have committed too many men forward and are unable to return to defensive positions, meaning it's simply a case of picking the right pass in order to score. Colombia's approach may be straightforward, but they boast the quality in attack to ensure the plan pays dividends.
Even if teams set up to defend against them, Colombia have the players to hurt any team and with Juan Quintero, Fredy Guarín, Ramos and Martinez in reserve, the depth is there to go far in Brazil. Provided Rodríguez, Cuadrado and Ibarbo, amongst others, can maintain this rich vein of form, Pekerman's side have the ability to make it all the way to next month's final.
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All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com where you can find yet more stats and player ratings.Suggest a correction