Colombia national team coach José Pékerman has handed a surprise call-up to River Plate midfielder Carlos Carbonero after Aldo Leão Ramírez pulled out of the tournament because of injury. Carbonero, 23, was handed his chance after Ramírez suffered an injury in last Friday’s friendly win over Jordan.
Carbonero could feature for the first time since former Argentina coach Pékerman took up the post in 2012. His inclusion means he is the third player from Argentina club side River Plate to be added to the squad, joining Éder Álvarez Balanta and Teófilo Gutiérrez. The South American outfit have been pitted against Greece, Côte d’Ivoire and Japan in Group C.
The tournament in Brazil will be a big event for Pékerman as he looks to banish the bad memories of his last World Cup when his Argentina side should have got beyond the quarter-finals. The Argentinian side were leading 1-0 going into the last 20 minutes before Pékerman hauled off attacking midfielder Juan Riquelme. It was a decision he later regretted and was criticized for as the host nation equalized before winning the penalty shoot-out. Pékerman was also berated for leaving Lionel Messi on the bench and not including Javier Zanetti.
The match is remembered for being an ugly affair as a mass brawl broke out at the end. Sadly for Pékerman it turned out to be his last game in charge as he resigned afterwards. Pékerman the plied in trade in both Mexican and Colombian club football from 2007-2009. After a few years in the soccer wilderness, Pékerman was handed the Colombia job in 2012.
Although Pékerman does not have much pressure on him – Colombia is not expected to win the tournament – he does have a solid nucleus of players at his disposal. Despite missing his top striker, Radamel Falcao, his Monaco teammate, James Rodríguez, has been called up and is tipped to have a good tournament. Furthermore, Colombia’s rise in the international game can be seen in its rise in the FIFA rankings. Before Pékerman was manager, Colombia was 35th. Today the country is 8th.
There will be more pressure on its South American rivals, Brazil and Argentina. Brazil always carries the weight of expectation going into major tournaments and being the host nation will only bring added pressure. Argentina goes to the tournament with arguably its best attack in recent memory. Such are the embarrassment of riches at its disposal, Juventus striker Carlos Tevez still cannot win a recall and is resigned to watching his fellow countrymen on the television.
Pékerman will be looking to surprise his rivals by leading his unfancied side to at least the quarter-finals before meeting one of the tournament’s heavyweights. If he does, he will erase the bitter memories of Germany in 2006 and restore his reputation as a respected and successful international coach before he calls time on his career. It is a close call as to whether he can lead the Colombians to anywhere near the famous gold statue, but the Colombia attack and midfield are playing some of their best football in a long time. Without that added pressure and level of expectation, Colombia could raise a few eyebrows.
By Robert Shepherd