Colombia coach happy with options despite absence of Falcao
Injuries have robbed Colombia of four important players but the South Americans are confident they can still be a success at their first World Cup in 16 years.
The Colombians take on Greece in today’s Group C encounter at the Estadio Mineraio in Belo Horizonte without star striker Radamel Falcao, as well as Luis Perea, Aldo Ramirez and Edwin Valencia.
Falcao did not recover in time from a serious knee injury to take part in the tournament.
Colombia nevertheless have players that compete in top European leagues and are confident of progressing from a group that also includes Ivory Coast and Japan.
"We are a competitive team that respects every rival," Colombia coach Jose Pekerman said on Friday.
"We know we need to be at our best. My team heads into this World Cup aware of the challenge but wanting to have a starring role and to go as far possible.
"We are delighted to be here, proud that Colombia returns to play at a World Cup after so long."
Pekerman has plenty of options in attack with Carlos Bacca, Teofilo ‘Teo’ Gutierrez and Jackson Martinez all having enjoyed strong seasons with their respective clubs.
"We have high expectations," Pekerman said. "We have enough quality to represent Colombia in the best possible way.
"We have many players that play in European clubs and that experience has allowed us to assemble a team that plays together rather than one that relies on individual play."
Colombia captain Mario Yepes expects a tough test against Greece, who were knocked out in the first round of the tournament four years ago .
"It’s going to be a very complicated game just as all of our group games will be," the 38-year-old said. "We will try to control possession and go into every game with the intention of playing good football."
Greece won the European Championships in 2004 but have never progressed beyond the group stage at a World Cup.
"Our main goal is to make it to the knockout round, something we have never done before," said Greece captain Giorgos Karagounis.
"In order to do this, we have to take each game as it comes.
"The most important game for us is against Colombia.
"This is our first game and they are a dangerous team."
Greece’s Portuguese coach Fernando Santos will have midfielder Panagiotis Tachtsidis available after he recovered from the shoulder injury he had picked up in training this week.
Santos believes his team may have an edge in experience on Saturday, with Colombia not having featured in a World Cup since 1998.
"Colombia have a great generation of players," Santos said on Friday. "Their players have starring roles in different European teams but it is a mistake to consider them favourites because they have not played in this competition for a long time and that must weigh heavily on them."
Santos concedes the South Americans will be very tough opponents, however.
"Colombia is a strong rival and we must maintain our concentration from the start in order to get a good result," he said. "To start well is important.
"However, we cannot underestimate our other group rivals as Japan and the Ivory Coast arrive very strong to the tournament."
Santos spoke highly of opposite number Pekerman, adding: "Pekerman has helped Colombia in making them a team that besides having talented players also know how to get results."
Captain Karagounis expressed his disappointment at the fact his team would not be facing Falcao.
"I want all the great players to be at this event," the Fulham midfielder said. "Falcao is a player that is huge and it’s a pity that he is not here. He did everything to be here. The tournament loses some of its glamour."
Karagounis added: "We have shown throughout our preparation that we are a team on and off the field. Through all the joys and sorrows, we are together. We live all of this intensely.
"You must go in with confidence – this is the most important thing. We must have confidence in ourselves."