A common response from those players asked about the possibility of breaking into their respective national squads is, “I’m just focusing on playing well for my club: if I do that the national side will follow”. And if that individual rationale is to be believed, there are plenty of reasons to single out Colombia as dark horses at July’s Copa America in Argentina.
Just a fortnight before the continental competition gets underway, FIFA.com spoke to Udinese left-back Pablo Armero, just one of a host of Colombian players to have enjoyed a fine season on European soil. The question is, can these Cafetero stars reproduce their club form on the international stage?
“There’s no denying it. You’ve got (my Udinese team-mate) Cristian Zapata, as well as [Radamel] Falcao Garcia and Fredy Guarin, who’ve both had an incredible season with FC Porto. Adrian Ramos (of Hertha Berlin) is another who’s been getting plenty of games here in Europe, and now’s the time to use this good form to boost the national side,” said the 24-year-old, who is part of coach Hernan Dario Gomez’s squad for the upcoming Copa.
“It’s become a question of pride for us. That’s because, with the talent we’ve got, we need to be doing better than we have done recently. I’m not trying to pile on the pressure, but we need to get it into our heads that we’re capable of going toe-to-toe with any team in South America. I think the Copa America’s going to give us the perfect opportunity to find out exactly where we stand at the moment,” continued Armero, whose country has been drawn in Group A alongside Argentina, Bolivia and Costa Rica, and kick-off their campaign against the latter on 2 July.
At home in Udine
For many of those who followed Armero’s early career at homeland club America de Cali, as well as his spell at Brazilian club Palmeiras – who he joined at the beginning of 2009 – the player’s performance in his first season in Serie A may have come as something of a surprise. Indeed, it is not often a foreign player adapts so quickly and seamlessly to the Italian game, while in Armero’s case the number of doubters increased due to his struggles to cement a starting berth when at Palmeiras.
Yet the No27 wasted no time in becoming an important element in the fast, attack-minded Udinese set-up, with the club’s plethora of South American players no doubt helping him to swiftly settle in. “I didn’t have any problems at all adapting to life at Udinese. The atmosphere was perfect: we’re a young side but we want to achieve big things, just like we have done so far,” said Armero, referring to Le Zebrette’s fourth-place finish in Serie A and resulting berth in the 2011/12 UEFA Champions League qualifying phase. “I’ve felt comfortable from the off, so much so that I’ve even scored two goals this season. Can you imagine that? Me, scoring two goals!”
What's more, rather than looking at his Brazilian adventure as a negative experience, Armero believes the highs and lows he had to deal with at Palmeiras have served him in good stead since his relatively unexpected move to the Old Continent. Indeed, it is not every day that a player touches down at a big Italian club with the same aplomb as this gifted young defender, particularly after a mixed time at his previous club.
“I’m now starting to see more clearly just how much I learned during my spell in Brazil. That was where I started to grasp what was really involved in adapting to new surroundings,” said Armero, who prior to joining Palmeiras had only ever played for America de Cali, where he came up through the youth ranks.
“I know that I’m now a better player than I was some time ago, and I think the same can be said for the other Colombians who are playing in Europe too,” he said, as the interview concluded. “And if we can all come together, relax and play our best football then we can spring a surprise. Pretty much like Udinese did this season.”