World Cup: Pekerman's hopes are on Rodriguez

Widely regarded as one of the best players in the world, Monaco frontman Radamel Falcao has failed to recover in time from a knee injury. Jose Pekerman described the reluctant decision to leave the 28-year-old out of his final squad as "the saddest day I've had since becoming Colombia coach".

"We can say to all of Colombia that he did more than was within his power to play," he said.

"He deserved the right for us to wait and keep the hope alive."

Falcao had been given as long as possible to prove his fitness, with his absence only confirmed right on the squad deadline.

"I was very excited, but now I'll have to support the team from afar and I wish them well, hoping they play a good World Cup," said Falcao.

Colombia must now prove they are more than a one-man team.

Los Cafeteros made three successive World Cup tournaments in the 1990s when they were able to call upon players like flamboyant goalkeeper Rene Higuita, unmistakable midfielder Carlos Valderrama and the enigmatic forward Faustino Asprilla.

They have failed to replace such larger-than-life characters − until now.With experienced figures Mario Yepes, Cristian Zapata and Fredy Guarin complemented by blossoming talents such as James Rodriguez, there is hope that they can go far despite the Falcao blow.

Playmaker Rodriguez has been compared to Colombia legend Valderrama and his nickname (El Nuevo Pibe) means "The New Kid".

He has impressed since following international teammate Falcao's move to Monaco last summer, having helped Porto complete a hattrick of league titles in Portugal, and his performances proved vital during the qualifying campaign.

Colombia's road to Brazil showcased their abundance of attacking talent and steely defensive resolve. Pekerman's side battered the much-fancied Uruguay 4-0 and demolished Bolivia 5-0, while holding Argentina to a goalless draw.

Arguably their most impressive result was the point which clinched their World Cup berth as they rallied from three goals down to draw 3-3 with Chile. The ecstasy which greeted that result in October turned to despair three months later when Falcao, who had hit more than 70 goals in the previous two seasons with Atletico Madrid, injured a knee, and the team already have their excuse if they fail.

But, for a nation whose World Cup history is linked with tragedy, after defender Andres Escobar was murdered following his own goal in 1994, Colombia could provide a truly uplifting story if they can fulfil their promise in Brazil.

This article was first published on June 10, 2014.
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