The Colombia soccer team has been trying desperately to quell enormous expectations at home ahead of the vital World Cup qualifying match with Paraguay in Barranquilla on Friday.
“Los Cafeteros” are the in-form team in the CONEMBOL classifications and go into the tie as red-hot favorites against a Paraguay side hopelessly out of form and routed to the bottom of the table.
The visitors have won just once in eight qualifying games, losing their last four and lie nine points adrift of Colombia going into the half-way point in qualification.
Meanwhile convincing victories over Uruguay and Chile in the last two fixtures coupled with the recent return to FIFA’s top 10 for the first time in a decade has propelled Colombia into the world spotlight.
Supporters, who a few months ago would have looked at the table with trepidation, now dare to believe that Los Cafetoros will qualify for its first World Cup since France 1998.
In an attempt not to get carried away with the wave of euphoria which has spread around the country players and staff alike have done all they can to dampen expectations in the pre match build up.
Luis Bedoya, President of the Colombian Football Federation told El Pais, “I want to remind people that we have not qualified yet and that we have not yet beaten Paraguay. I worry that triumphalism is different to strongly supporting the team. We are going to face an opponent who deserves our respect.”
Star striker Radamel Falcao is among a handful of players who spoke this week about the dangers Paraguay will post.
“They are an important team in South America, who are not performing well, but that does not mean that Colombia has to relax, on the contrary we have to be very alert,” said the Atletico Madrid hot shot.
Paraguay could line up with a new-look side at the Estadio Metropolitano Stadium as veteran strikers Roque Santa Cruz and Oscar Cardozo were not included in the youthful looking squad.
Seemingly only a victory will do for the visitors if they are to qualify for their fifth consecutive World Cup – a record which Falcao alluded to in his interview.
“They are a team who have been to the last four World Cups. We cannot be complacent, we have to be very alert and play with the same attitude as before. We need these three points in Barranquilla,” said the 26-year old.
Colombia coach Jose Pekerman will be forced to make changes to the team which beat Chile 3-1 in the last round as midfield general Abel Aguilar and defender Luis Perea both miss out through suspension.