Colombia seeks to revive its magic

With a scintillating counter-attacking style and salsa-dancing celebrations, Colombia became the darlings of the 2014 World Cup where it shimmied its way to the quarter-finals.
Colombia coach Jose Pekerman
Colombia coach Jose Pekerman
But the “cafeteros”, as they are known in honour of the Andean country’s rich Arabica coffee, lost some of their swagger in the qualifying campaign for this World Cup. It scored just 21 goals during the gruelling two-year, 18-match South American qualifiers and limped over the line with three points from its last four games to claim fourth spot.
Argentine coach Jose Pekerman will be striving to bring back the magic to a team that boasts Monaco striker Radamel Falcao and 2014 Golden Boot winner James Rodriguez. There were glimpses of the old lustre during Colombia’s friendly against France in March, when the South Americans roared back from 2-0 down to beat “Les Bleus” 3-2.
“Colombia showed World Cup attitude,” a satisfied Pekerman said after the game at the Stade de France. Colombians is also pinning its hopes on Falcao, known as “El Tigre” (The Tiger), who sat out the 2014 World Cup due to a ligament injury but is hoping to make up for lost time in Russia.
“I’ve imagined myself scoring a goal in the World Cup many times. I haven’t counted how many times, but yes, many times,” Falcao, 32, laughingly said in a recent interview. Luckily for his canary-yellow-shirted squad, Colombia will face manageable rivals in Japan, Senegal, and Poland — with Group H the only one to lack a World Cup winner.
The liveliest showdown will likely be between Colombia, ranked 16th, and Poland, ranked 10th and back in the tournament for the first time since 2006 thanks to record scorer Robert Lewandowski. Senegal, ranked 28th, will be competing in the World Cup for the second time after reaching the quarter-finals in Japan and South Korea in 2002.
Japan sealed its sixth straight qualification for the World Cup but is ranked a lowly 60th. Comfortingly for Colombia, it thrashed Japan 4-1 at the 2014 World Cup. “It’s a level group, we have to compete very well to get through the first round,” said Rodriguez.
“Difficult, but nothing is impossible.” Colombia is in its fifth World Cup, with its quarter-final appearance at Brazil 2014 — where it lost to the host — its best performance.
FIFA ranking: 16 
Previous tournaments: Colombia is playing in its fifth World Cup, with its quarter-final appearance at Brazil 2014 — where it lost to the host — its best performance. The Andean country is best remembered for its 1990s team featuring characters such as eccentric goalkeeper Rene Higuita and blond-locked Carlos Valderrama.
Form guide: Colombia had a disappointing qualifying campaign but their attacking prowess and ability to turn games has been on display since. Trailing 2-0 in a friendly against France in March, it clawed back to beat “Les Bleus” 3-2 at the Stade de France. But Colombia was unable to beat Australia a few days later in a goalless draw that highlighted the South American team’s sometimes erratic form.
Prospects: With a formidable attack and a relatively manageable group, Colombia is highly competitive. Group H, where Colombia will face Japan, Senegal, and Poland, and should provide opportunities for the South Americans to rack up a few goals.

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