|Peker-Man with a plan (I cant believe I've never thought of that before)|
"I am not as skilful as everyone thinks I am; I understand that people are excited for me and what I can do which is good, as it proves that I am on the right path and that my hard work is paying off. However, I am really just 'normal' and not a 'star', yet. People are often asking me when 'I will go to Barcelona and it makes me feel uncomfortable because I am still young and learning. But the rumours that run around often make me feel as if my head will explode. It puts stress on my mind when I am trying to focus on River Plate and possibly get the chance to represent Colombia. It's a dream of mine to play for Colombia during a World Cup, but I cannot make it if I don't continue working hard."
This is an incredibly wise and refreshing statement from the so-called new kid on the block, Eder Balanta. The 20-year old River Plate centre half isn't even a year into his professional career at this stage, but the justified excitement around him has not just led to him already being cited as Argentina's Primera Division's best defender, but River Plate actually received a big from Inter just 5 games into his career. Just in September he was subject to interest of Barcelona, which he notes above, being eyed as a potential long term replacement for Carles Puyol.
With a new contract and a reported 15m Euro release clause at this age, it seems Jose Pekerman giving him his first opportunity with the national squad was inevitable. With national captain Mario Yepes out with injury for the upcoming games in Europe against Belgium and Holland, it's going to be very interesting to see if Pekerman decides to give him some match time.
Usually it's been very difficult for anyone outside his favoured 15/16 payers to get a look in at the starting line-up, but you can see why the Argentine coach might make an exception in this case, with eyes of Balanta having the potential to start in Brazil next summer. Although statistically Colombia's defensive is very good, they owe a lot of that to them being so dominant on the offensive side of things, with Yepes most often starting beside Luis Perea or Christian Zapata. You'd wonder if Pekerman truly would dare use a partnership as aged as Yepes & Perea, especially with Balanta currently showing incredible amounts of technical ability that these two somewhat lack. Ideally for me, Zapata and Balanta would work as a combination, but it's impossible to predict which partnership will work best and if Pekerman would even consider disrupting a team near on set in stone.
|Balanta (right) during this season's Superclasico|
Other changes of real note include main keeper David Ospina is out with a short term knee problem, while Juan Quintero has been left out with an ankle injury suffered mid-October, although this seems to be out of pure caution with him possibly featuring for Porto this weekend.
Without any further hindrances, here the full (and very decent) 24-man Colombia squad for the friendlies with Belgium (November 14) and Holland (November 19):
Defenders: Pablo Armero (Napoli), Cristian Zapata (AC Milan), Santiago Arias (PSV Eindhoven), Stefan Medina (Atletico Nacional), Luis Amaranto Perea (Cruz Azul), Eder Alvarez Balanta (River Plate), Carlos Valdes (Independiente Santa Fe)
Midfielder: Fredy Guarin (Inter Milan), Juan Cuadrado (Fiorentina), Abel Aguilar (Toulouse), Carlos Sanchez (Elche), Macnelly Torres (Al-Shabab), James Rodriguez (Monaco), Aldo Leao Ramirez (Morelia), Edwin Valencia (Fluminense), Alexander Mejia (Atletico Nacional)
Forwards: Radamel Falcao (Monaco), Carlos Bacca (Sevilla), Teofilo Gutierrez (River Plate), Jackson Martinez (Porto), Victor Ibarbo (Cagliari), Luis Fernando Muriel (Udinese)
And here's my expected starting line-up for the first game vs Belgium
|Cuadrado bombing up the right should be something|
Keeping this brief enough, I think the front three is the most solidly nailed down part of this team. These three have been as involved as anyone over Pekerman's period as manager and the chemistry between them has been the direct cause of almost every goal they scored over the qualification process. Possible changes to this area could be: Jackson Martinez having another great season and overtaking Falcao, or, Juan Cuadrado having another great season as an attacker for Fiorentina and overtaking either James or Teo.
In the midfield, I found it hard to decide whether Perkerman will prefer Carlos Sanchez or Edwin Valencia as his midfield cover, I opted for the latter due to him being the more complete midfielder the world cup will demand, with his distribution and tackling both just pipping that of Sanchez. Pekerman has never been one to put too much emphasis on midfield creativity. Aguilar doggedness in his box-to-box has made him a favourite for at least three Colombia managers by now, although his effectiveness on the pitch can be missed at times. Guarin's recently fought his way back into this team, and should be handed quite a free role to release his powerful style in all its glory.
At the back Perea and Valdes have been preferred choices under Pekerman and unfortunately I don't see Eder Balanta sneaking in here just yet. Also, Faryd Mondragon continues to be on course to take the record for oldest ever player at a world cup, the 42-year old is looking likely to continue to be Ospina's understudy and replacement in this match.
Another international break, more promise. On we march.