Misfiring Colombia grateful to midfield marksmen
Midfielders have accounted for seven of Los Cafeteros' last eight goals in 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifying action
** Their last attacker to score in a qualifier was Carlos Bacca in March 2016
** Ex-international Juan Pablo Angel gave us his thoughts
Colombia went to Quito in March seeking to make a statement and take possession of second place in the South American qualifying competition for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. Jose Pekerman's side did just that, producing one of their best performances of the campaign to come away with a 2-0 victory. Not for the first time, their goals were scored by midfielders, with James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado settling the contest.
It so happens that Los Cafeteros are the second-least prolific team out of the top seven in qualifying, behind only Argentina. They have mustered just 18 goals in 14 matches (La Albiceleste have only managed 15) and their midfield's contribution on this score has been crucial: of the eight goals they have chalked up in their last eight qualifiers, seven came from midfielders. The odd one out was converted by a centre-back.
"They're a team with a lot of variety, technically speaking, and plenty of self-belief," Juan Pablo Angel told FIFA.com. The former Colombia forward, who made 29 appearances in qualifiers between 1996 and 2005, admitted that "on paper, it's a side that should be more free-scoring" before proceeding to sing the praises of the squad's midfield schemers.
"James is much more mature now, Cuadrado is continuing to play an important role for Juventus, Edwin Cardona is rediscovering his form with Monterrey, and Atletico Nacional's Mateus Uribe has also forced himself into the national-team picture. He's a powerful presence in both boxes, is good in the air and has an eye for goal."
Angel – who represented the likes of Nacional, River Plate and Aston Villa during his distinguished career – went on to highlight "the inclusion of wingers like Orlando Berrio, since Colombia were short on options like him before". He also lauded Miguel Borja, "who was really important against Ecuador. He's fast and a goalscorer, but he also has the ability to hold the ball up and bring the midfielders into play."
Indeed, Borja – who led the line on his own – set up the opening goal in Quito, bursting into space down the left flank on the counter-attack and curling in a cross to which James applied the finishing touch. The No10 has been the most regular name on the scoresheet for Colombia lately, notching up three of their last eight goals. Cuadrado, Cardona, Abel Aguilar, Macnelly Torres and the defender Yerry Mina weighed in with the other five.
The drought of the strikers You have to go back to 29 March 2016 for the last time a frontman scored for Colombia in qualifying action. That day, Carlos Bacca bagged a brace against none other than the Ecuadorians in the reverse fixture. In total, the AC Milan star has struck just three times on the road to Russia 2018, while one-goal Teofilo Gutierrez is the only other forward to have found the net.
Nevertheless, Angel refrained from criticising his fellow attackers, instead focusing his analysis on what he believes have been recurrent collective failings over the course of the campaign. On this note, he argued that there is a reason why, despite the midfielders' goalscoring exploits, Colombia entered their qualifying double-header last month in sixth place, outside the automatic qualification spots and even the play-off berth.
"It's more to do with how the team are playing – it's hard to explain it any other way. Colombia have an array of attackers who are performing effectively at club level, and doing so in competitive leagues. It's not just that the national team are struggling to score goals; it's that they're struggling to create chances. That's the most worrying part."
Now second in the table, albeit with only four points separating them from sixth, Colombia have visits to Venezuela and Peru and home matches against Brazil and Paraguay to come. Angel is backing the country's misfiring marksmen to put their recent difficulties behind them in this sequence and help Los Cafeteros to book a ticket to Russia.
"The lack of time makes it very tough to work on things, but as the team start to play better, like they did against Ecuador, linking up and building patterns of play, we'll see that our forwards are perfectly capable and competent. If we can get them into positions in front of goal regularly, they'll find the goals that have been missing during the qualifiers so far."
Did you know…?
James Rodriguez (five) and Arturo Vidal (six) are the only midfielders with five or more goals in the South American qualifying competition
Jose Pekerman has used 13 different forwards in the campaign so far
Radamel Falcao has only made four appearances and is yet to open his account
During 63 games in charge of Colombia, coach Jose Pekerman has seen his side score 101 goals, 1.6 per game