Colombia is set to play Venezuela on Sunday at 2 pm in Chile in their first match in the group C division of the Copa America 2015. Here is who you should be watching for.
An attacking midfielder who now plays for Real Madrid, had the most goals of any player in the entire World Cup tournament last year. He is only 23 years old, but proved in his performance in the 2014 World Cup that he is without question one of the team’s most valuable players. He is expected to be among the most exciting players to watch in the entire tournament.
Radamel “the Tiger” Falcao
Elected team captain by head coach Jose Pekerman. He is Colombia’s all time top scorer, having made 25 goals since his international debut for Colombia in 2007. Falcao struggled this year as a loan striker for Manchester United, scoring only 4 goals all season. However, in a recent friendly against Costa Rica, he scored the team’s only goal, bringing them a 1-0 win, effectively allowing him to regain the support of his team and his fans. Despite the shoddy performance in England this year, he is still considered one of the most dangerous strikers in the world today.
This 29-year-old currently is seeking to prove himself to the world and to potential future soccer club managers, as he intends to up his stock in the midst of a contractual transition. In the past two seasons as a striker for Sevilla he has reportedly scored nearly 50 goals. He has been a consistently positive asset for Colombia, and is expected to continue to be in the upcoming matches.
The team faces many challenges on defense, as they have lost several key players to injuries. Midfielders Abel Aguilar, Fredy Guarin and Juan Quintero, plus defender Eder Alvarez Balanta are all currently on the disabled list. Furthermore, last year’s team captain and star defenseman, Mario Yepes has since retired.
Jeison Murillo of Granada and 23-year-old Santiago Arias will be Colombia’s stoppers. They each will be seeking to prove themselves. Behind them will be an experienced David Ospina defending the goal.
Coach Pekerman has won three consecutive World Under-20 championships with Argentina. In 2006, he led Argentina to the World Cup’s quarter-finals. In 2012, he led Colombia to the World Cup’s quarter finals, which was the furthest the team had ever reached. This year he hopes to return Colombia to the glory they enjoyed in 2001.
11 of Venezuela’s 23 players are presently competing with European teams. While La Vinotinto (Venezuela team name) is not favored to win, they will likely not be an easy feat either. Historically, Venezuela has not had the same football fanatic culture that their neighbor and Sunday opponent Colombia has. That said, ever since they hosted the Copa America in 2007, at which point they made it to the quarterfinals for the first time ever, they have consistently been considered a worthy opponent. Then in 2011, they again made history by advancing to the semifinals. This year they hope to take it all the way.
Venezuela’s star player, Salomon Rondon, scored 12 goals this season for Zenit St. Petersburg, helping his team win the Russian Premier League title. He is a ferocious contender and likely to be the biggest threat Venezuela has against Colombia.
Team captain Juan Arango is the team’s all time highest scorer, having made 23 career goals for Venezuela. He is the most seasoned veteran of the team, having appeared in some 100 matches for his nation’s team. He is 35, arguably weathered, yet still effective.
Beyond Rondon and Arango, Venezuela is largely undermanned with star players. This could be a debilitating factor to their fate in the tournament.
Roberto Rosales and Oswaldo Vizcarrondo will be Venezuela’s backfield. They will have to prove their effectiveness in the coming matches. In goal, will be an experienced Dani Hernandez.
In group C is Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, and Peru. In order to advance to the second round of the tournament, the Cafeteros will have to finish either first or second in the group that also contains soccer giant Brazil and World Cup participant Peru. Brazil defeated Colombia last year in the 2014 World Cup. Peru knocked out Colombia in the 2011 Copa America. That same year Venezuela made it to the semifinals for the first time in history.
The route to the cup will be no easy task. That said, this year’s national team is likely be the best squad that Colombia has seen since they won their first and only Copa America in 2001, the year they hosted it. Within their arsenal, they have some of the best offensive weapons in the entire tournament, and arguably the world. The greatest pending concern will thus be how their defense pans against a Venezuelan attack that is hungry for glory. As of now, it is anybody’s game. Here’s to hoping Colombia redeems itself against all of its past rivals.