Colombia's collective strength suggests a bright future - even without Falcao

COMMENT: Jose Pekerman's men beat Greece 3-0 in their World Cup opener on Saturday - despite the absence through injury of their star striker
By Ben Hayward in Belo Horizonte

No Radamel Falcao, no problem. All of the talk before this match was about how Colombia would cope without their best player, sidelined since January with a cruciate ligament problem. The answer was emphatic.

As it turned out, coach Jose Pekerman opted not to replace Falcao, but to tweak his team instead. The South Americans' 4-2-2-2 became more of a 4-2-3-1 as Teo Gutierrez played further forward, flanked by exciting wingers Victor Ibarbo and Juan Guillermo Caudrado. All pace and power.

Greece came into the competition with the best defensive record in European qualifying, but even in Falcao's absence, Fernando Santos' side were blown away. Pablo Armero made it 1-0 after just five minutes to become only the fourth West Ham player ever to score at a World Cup, and after Greece briefly threatened a revival, Teo made it two from a corner just short of the hour.

Colombia and Greece had only met once previously and that game - a friendly in the lead-up to the 1994 World Cup - had finished 2-0. History looked like repeating itself here, but James Rodriguez added another in the dying seconds following a wonderful move which saw Juan Zuniga and Cuadrado combine and the Monaco man make it three with a fine finish.

In the absence of Falcao, James enjoyed more freedom and popped up all over the place. "I wanted to score and it means a lot," the forward told Goal after the game. "We all worked hard for each other in attack and we got our rewards."

Coach Pekerman was also asked about Falcao. "I'll repeat what I said before," he explained. "It's s shame Falcao is not here. We really miss him."

But the former Atletico and Porto forward wasn't far away, watching from the sidelines with friends and family at the Estadio Mineirao.

"We spoke to him before the game and afterwards too," Teo told media in the mixed zone. "We are a big family."

And he added: "Falcao is a great player and we miss him, but he's not able to play so we all work together to do as well as we can. Today it worked out well."

Of the 57,000 crowd present in Belo Horizonte, around 40,000 must have been Colombian and Pekerman's players ensured those fans return home - or to their hotels - happy after what was the nation's most emphatic World Cup victory. They will face stronger sides than Greece in this competition, but Friday's showing suggested there is a bright future for them at the World Cup - even without Falcao.

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