Despite Colombia’s disappointing exit from the Copa America and the subsequent appointment of a new coach, goalkeeper David Ospina believes continuity – and not wholesale change – will be key to his side's hopes of qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. Indeed, for Ospina, the past is very much in the past.
“We’re a work in progress,” said former coach Hernan Dario Gomez back in June, after his side booked their place in the quarter-finals of the Copa America. “We know that, little by little, we’re forming our own identity, style, and discipline.” Two months after Los Cafeteros’ last-eight defeat by Peru, Gomez stepped down and handed the reins to his assistant, Leonel Alvarez.
So do Gomez's words still ring true today? Or is it a case of back to square one? “Not at all,” Ospina told FIFA.com, refuting the latter claim. “The system hasn’t changed and the coach is keen to promote continuity.”
Alvarez was the unanimous choice among the players to take over after Gomez’s surprise resignation. He faces the task of leading Colombia to a FIFA World Cup for the first time since France 1998, but as Ospina explained, some of the foundations for success are already in place. “The change of coach is not a concern,” he said. “He was the assistant coach so he knows the system well. Nothing has changed and I don’t see why we should start everything from scratch.”
Gomez resigned at the beginning of August, and Alvarez, a former midfielder who won 101 international caps in his playing days, was officially named his successor on 8 September. A few days before his appointment, Alvarez watched Colombia score a total of four unanswered goals in friendly victories over Honduras and Jamaica.
“It’s the start of a new process,” said Ospina, who made his international debut four years ago in a 3-1 defeat by Uruguay. “I’m going to do everything I can to become first-choice,” added the keeper, no doubt keen to shine in Colombia’s qualifiers after missing their Copa America campaign with a double fracture of the nose.
Colombia begin their Brazil 2014 qualifying campaign on 11 October away to Bolivia, and Ospina is confident of a positive result. “We’ve reflected on our Copa America showing and to be honest, we did well, despite the fact that we were knocked out by Peru,” said the keeper, who plays for Nice in the French top flight.
“We were a bit unlucky in that match; we didn’t convert our chances and it cost us dearly,” Ospina continued. “But over the tournament as a whole, we played well. You always need to be self-critical when you play football at a high level, but now we have to be positive.”
Ospina’s personal ambitions aside, the Brazil 2014 qualifying campaign also represent a golden opportunity for Colombia as a team. Indeed, eternal favourites and perpetual qualifiers Brazil bypass the preliminaries as hosts, and their absence will no doubt give Los Cafeteros added hope of reaching the main event.
“Still, with nine teams in the group it’s going to be very, very tough,” said the former Atletico Nacional de Medellin keeper. “Without Brazil, the other sides will see it as their chance to reach the World Cup. It will be a long and difficult journey, because there are so many good South American players who compete in Europe.”
For Ospina, Colombia’s large European-based contingent also represents the biggest obstacle to success. “It’s nothing new for us, but when you have just three or four days together before a match and most of the players have to travel from a different continent, it doesn’t help your preparation,” said Ospina, who replaced French international Hugo Lloris at Nice.
“Fortunately we have intelligent players who can adapt very quickly to the national team’s tactical system,” he added. With Colombia’s first qualifier now just a matter of days away, Ospina will not have long to wait to put his assertion to the test.