Colombia High On Pekerman Factor Malaysia's Mustapha "El Loco" Kamaruddin hails the effect of wily Argentine, Jose Pekerman, on Colombia's revival


Colombia are doing pretty well in the South American 2014 World Cup qualifiers after a rather unimpressive start to the campaign.

They are now second in the standings behind Argentina and their chances of booking a spot in Brazil are looking good.

The Colombians, in their last two matches, stunned South American champions Uruguay 4-0 at home and defeated the formidable Chile 3-1 away.

One of the main reasons for these fine showings is their productive strikeforce led by Atletico Madrid's  Radamel Falcao and Teofilo Gutierrez, who plies his trade with Colombian club Junior de Barranquilla.

By now everyone knows who Falcao is. Much has already been written on the man they call El Tigre, who has now caught the attention of several big clubs in Europe.

One other reason must be the new coach, Jose Pekerman.

The Argentine tactician seems to have already built up a solid unit who can produce entertaining performances, as well as getting positive results - something which seemed unlikely when he first took over at the start of this year.

Pekerman took over the team from Leonel Alvarez, who was sacked only after three months in charge.

Alvarez was criticized for poor performances by many Colombians, including legend Carlos Valderrama.

The 63-year-old Pekerman, born in Villa Dominguez, Argentina, did not have a glittering playing career as a midfielder.

He started off by playing for Argentinos Juniors from 1970 to 1974. He then signed up with Colombian club Independiente Medellin where he played from 1974 to 1977.

Pekerman started his adventure as coach in 1981 when he handled Chacarta Juniors youth side.

Then it was the Argentinos Juniors youth side from 1982 to 1992. And then followed a stint at Colo Colo, again the youth set-up.

Pekerman got his big break when he was appointed as coach for the Argentina Under-20 squad in 1994.  An appointment which caused some surprise as his resume did not include any major achievements at that stage.

However, Pekerman's successes silenced critics as  his team won the Fifa Under-20 World Cup three times -  1995 (Qatar), 1997 (Malaysia), and 2001 (Argentina).

The team also won the two South American Youth Championships in 1997 and 1999.

An incredible record that may never be emulated.

And it was in the Malaysia tournament that El Loco had that opportunity to interview the soft-spoken and headmaster-like Pekerman several times.

The Argentines were based up north in sleepy Kangar with classy players like Juan Roman Riquelme and Pablo Aimar in the squad.

Of course, El Loco also interviewed these two who later became superstars.

For the record, Argentina emerged champions by beating Uruguay in the final at Shah Alam Stadium.

On Sept 15, 2004, Pékerman was named coach of the Argentina senior team, who qualified for the 2006 World Cup.

The team, after dominating the group stages, emerged on top via goal difference. The Albicelestes moved on to the knockout round, beating Mexico 2-1 in a comeback victory.

In the quarter-finals, Argentina went ahead 1-0 against the hosts Germany, but shortly before the end of the match Germany equalized through a Miroslav Klose header.

The Germans went on to win on penalties, sending Argentina out of the tournament.

Pekerman have made defensive substitutions including taking off Juan Roman Riquelme for Esteban Cambiasso in this match and he was criticized by many for this negative move.

He announced his resignation as Argentina coach after that.

Now he is back at the highest level with Colombia as they do battle to book a place in Brazil and Pekerman has stressed the importance of their victory over Chile last Tuesday.

"The win is very important. It affirms that the team have potential and still have a lot to give," he said.

With Falcao and Pekerman around, El Loco believes Colombia will qualify for Brazil.