Colombia are still looking for strikers and goals in post-Falcao era

When Colombia qualified for the 2014 World Cup, Los Cafeteros immediately became one of the sexy dark horse picks to win it all. They had finished 2nd in CONMEBOL qualifying and had an embarrassment of riches on attacking talent.

Radamel Falcao was a top-ten player in the world, while James Rodriguez and Jackson Martinez were on the verge of superstardom. It didn’t seem to matter that Falcao went down with a torn ACL before the tournament. A narrow quarterfinal loss to the Brazil was enough to see Colombia leave the World Cup as a team for the future.

How much can change in two years.

The Colombia side that will face the United States in the Copa America Centenario opener next month doesn’t look anything like the one from the World Cup.

Not only has Falcao not been the same since the injury that robbed him of a chance to star in Brazil, his career has taken a complete nosedive. Though he captained Colombia at last year’s Copa America, Falcao failed to score in the group and was dropped for the quarterfinal loss to Argentina. He hasn’t been called back up to José Pékerman’s squad since October, probably because his two loan spells at Chelsea and Manchester United have been nothing short of disasters. Once the focal point of the team, Falcao has nearly fallen off the world soccer map.

Colombia will also arrive at Copa America Centenario without the injured Jackson Martinez. Eighteen months ago he was worth $40 million to Atletico Madrid, but he’s since flopped spectacularly and now is a forgotten man playing in the Chinese Super League.

And then there’s James Rodriguez. The breakout star of Brazil 2014 will carry the weight of his country on his shoulders, but he’ll be coming off a disappointing second season at Real Madrid, where he saw his complementary role further diminished since Zinedine Zidane took over as manager.

How far can James Rodriguez and Colombia go?

Two years ago, Colombia’s potent attack was supposed to push the team on a level with Brazil and Argentina atop the CONMEBOL pecking order for the long term, but now they’ve regressed back to the middle of the pack. In the 2018 World Cup qualifying cycle, Colombia have won just half of their six games — against Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador — while losing their first meetings with Argentina and Uruguay, and drawing Chile.

The biggest reason to worry: Colombia mustered just one goal in those three contests against the stronger teams.

Colombia still sit fourth in the flawed FIFA World Rankings, but they don’t even look like a top four team for Copa America Centenario. The expectation will still be for them to top Group A, which also includes the United States, Costa Rica and Paraguay. But can Colombia make a run to their first Copa semifinals since they won it all in 2001?

Pékerman still has two servicable strikers in AC Milan’s Carlos Bacca and Borussia Dortmund’s Adrian Ramos. Bacca is now a household name after helping Sevilla win back-to-back Europa League titles, scoring 7 goals in each campaign, and he was Serie A’s second top scorer in his first season at AC Milan. Ramos, although limited to a backup role at Dortmund, makes the most of his showings in brief cameos off the bench, scoring 9 goals in 26 Bundesliga appearances.

Both are capable of scoring in bunches, but neither player will likely ever reach the level of Falcao, who in 2012 finished fifth in the FIFA Ballon d’Or voting.

That Falcao is long gone, as is the hype surrounding Colombia during and after that last World Cup. Los Cafeteros need results to get back into the upper echelon of the Americas, and the world. That starts at Copa America Centenario, and with goals.