Colombia coach Queiroz wants to follow Pekerman’s legacy

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Colombia’s new coach Carlos Queiroz says he’ll try to build on the legacy of his predecessor Jose Pekerman, and immediately identified midfielder James Rodriguez as “the heart of the team.”

The Portuguese coach said Thursday that his two top goals for Colombia will be winning the next Copa America and taking the national team past the quarterfinals at the World Cup 2022.

Queiroz officially took over Colombia on Wednesday, having been in charge of Iran since 2011. He also managed Real Madrid in 2003-04 after Vicente del Bosque left.

Speaking to reporters, Queiroz praised Pekerman for leaving “an unbeatable legacy,” and said that Colombia needs to “build a future” on the shoulders of Rodriguez, the Bayern Munich playmaker.

“He’s the heart of the team,” Queiroz said about Rodriguez, who was the biggest breakout star at the 2014 World Cup, where he scored a tournament-leading six goals.

“My mission is to improve in all fields. We’re going to be demanding. We’re going to take care of what has been done,” Queiroz said.

Pekerman let his contract run out in 2018 after six years and two World Cups with the team.

The Argentine led Colombia to its first World Cup in 16 years in 2014, when the team reached the quarterfinals.

He also qualified Colombia again for the World Cup in Russia, where they were knocked out in the round of 16 by England in a penalty shootout.

Queiroz’s first challenge will be the Copa America that kicks off in Brazil in June. Colombia faces Argentina, Paraguay and guest Qatar in the group stage.