Four years on from their last appearance at a FIFA U-17 World Cup, a new generation of Colombian youngsters have earned their chance to shine on the world stage. And just as at Finland 2003, where the Cafeteros came away with fourth place, well-respected coach Eduardo Lara is back at the helm. The 2007 event will be Colombia's fourth appearance at the elite competition, and Lara's charges have the technical ability and attacking prowess to cause quite a stir on Korean soil.
The experienced tactician has assembled a squad amply endowed with those qualities traditionally found in the Colombian game: skill, pace and ability on the ball. The team's success has also been built on a miserly back-line, the South American Zone's meanest defence conceding just five goals in nine qualifying games. Doing the damage up front were deadly duo James Rodriguez and Cristian Nazarith, the latter topping the squad's scoring charts in qualifying with six strikes.
Colombia booked their place at the FIFA U-17 World Cup thanks to their second-place finish at March's South American U-17 Championship in Ecuador. Following their compatriots' failure to reach the FIFA U-20 World Cup, the pressure on Eduardo Lara's Cafeteros had grown still further, with the hopes of a nation resting firmly on their young shoulders.
Showing a maturity way beyond their tender years, Lara's boys came through the first group phase in second place, group winners Argentina edging them out on goal difference. Colombia kicked off the decisive final round in solid fashion with a 2-1 win over Ecuador before defeat by the same score against the Albicelestes set the alarm bells ringing. Not to be denied a place in Korea, the Colombians outclassed Peru 3-0 to get their qualifying bid back on track, followed it with a 0-0 draw against the mighty Brazil before finishing the job in style with 5-0 rout of Venezuela.
The Cafeteros' impressive qualifying record speaks volumes, with five wins, three draws and a solitary defeat from nine games played. Lara's side also boasted the tournament's best defensive record along with Chile, both teams conceding just five goals. However, Colombia played five matches more than La Roja, and also walked away with the competition's Fair Play award.
Eduardo Lara was born on 4 September 1959 in Pradera, in the Valle del Cauca region of Argentina. Originally drawn to Buenos Aires by the dream of a career in architecture, he soon found the temptation of a coaching career too strong to resist. His time in the Argentinian capital was spent amassing a host of qualifications including "Technique and Tactics: Theory and Methodology" in 1983, "Coaching the AFA (Argentinian Football Association) Way" in 1984, "Features and Developments in Fitness Training" (1985), and "Working with Young Players" in 1986. Lara supplemented his education by attending seminars by such illustrious figures as Carlos Bilardo, Fabio Capello, Francisco Maturana, Pele and Arrigo Sacchi, teachings he has put to good practice at the helm of Colombia's U-17 and U-20 sides. Respected by fans and media alike for his experience and in-depth knowledge of the Colombian youth football scene, Lara will be determined to improve on the U-17s' fourth-place finish at Finland 2003.
Combining speed, power and explosive finishing skills to devastating effect, Cristian Nazarith wowed the assembled media throughout March's qualifying tournament in Ecuador. The America de Cali striker top-scored for Colombia with an impressive six-goal tally, including a hat trick in the 5-0 final-game rout of Venezuela that sealed the Cafeteros place at Korea 2007. "At the moment I'm focusing on winning a first-team place at America, and only then will I set my sights on a move to Europe," says the ambitious youngster, who could put himself firmly in the shop window with a strong performance in Korea.
What they said...
"Qualifying for Korea meant so much to us, but we need to stay calm and not get carried away. We've got great players, but it's vital we show plenty of composure in the face of this new challenge." - Eduardo Lara, Colombia coach
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