The first mission for Carlos Queiroz as the head coach of Colombia national team has come to an end sooner than expected, as the 'Cafeteros' were eliminated by Chile in the Copa America quarter-final. So what the fans can take from this tournament? Was it a complete failure or will the future look bright for the upcoming 2020 Copa America which Colombia will host? We tried to analyze the situation through several points.
The new coach
Queiroz was appointed less than six months ago and brought a refreshing change to the national team. After several years that Colombia played with the 4-2-3-1 formation under Pekerman, it was Queiroz who started to use the offensive 4-3-3 formation. The strategy includes high pressure of the players in the rival's half, sacrificing and aggression from all the team. During their pre-tournament matches, and also during the Copa America, Colombia played offensively and created many clear chances, but also missed a lot. The defense under the Portuguese looked very solid, just like Queiroz's former teams. Unfortunately, their weakest match was also the most important one against Chile. Queiroz also tried to switch positions for several players who later turned out to be a perfect decision. If we look at the whole tournament and not just the final result, then Colombia achieved 10 points out of 12 when they scored four goals and didn't concede a single goal. In the end, Colombia was eliminated in a penalty shoot-out, but the fans can be very optimistic after Queiroz's first mission, which made the national team to play even better than they did in Pekerman's last year.
If there's something good with having a new coach is the opportunity he gives for new and old players to prove themselves. For example, Edwin Cardona, who isn't new in the national team, but was ignored by Pekerman since November 2017 due to discipline problems. This ignoring hurt Colombia a lot in the World Cup, and now Queiroz gave Cardona the opportunity to start from scratch. The midfielder took it with both hands and impressed when he had the chance to play. Other players that have been left behind under Pekerman were Stefan Medina and Roger Martinez, and both of them were good in Colombia's prestigious win over Argentina. Queiroz placed them in unnatural positions – Medina as a right-back and Martinez as a left-winger, and it turned out to be a success. Queiroz also gave several new players their debut with the yellow jersey like the talented winger Luis Diaz, center-back John Lucumi or goalkeeper Alvaro Montero. Colombia was the only national team that all players played except the third goalkeeper Camilo Vargas, and we can say that Queiroz found the team's key players before the World Cup qualifiers which will start in March.
Duvan or Falcao?
Before the Copa America and later during the tournament, Queiroz always preferred to start with Falcao over Duvan Zapata, except the game against Qatar. It is well-known to everyone that Zapata came to the tournament as the best striker of Colombia due to his unbelievable form. He also managed to score two goals comparing to none of Falcao, despite playing less. So why did Queiroz insist on Falcao so much? It's not an easy decision to start with Falcao on the bench. Such an iconic figure of Colombia and of course, the captain, the leader with so much experience. Queiroz's reasons were clear. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough. In the last match against Chile, when the score was 0-0, Duvan replaced Falcao in the 77th minute. On the one hand he didn't have enough time; on the other hand, Queiroz took out his best penalty taker just before the shoot-out. It should be clear to the Portuguese coach that from now on it supposed to be Zapata as a starter for Colombia, as long as he continues with his form, while Falcao can still contribute from the bench.
In the past, one of Colombia's problems was to qualify from the group stage in the World Cup. It seems that in the last years the national team managed to finish as the group winner, whether it's the World Cup or the Copa America, but now the problem starts in the knockout stage. It seems that Colombia has a new mental barrier. Out of the last four tournaments, they managed to pass the first knockout stage only once – against Peru in a penalty shoot-out in the Copa America 2016. However, Colombia also lost in a penalty shoot-out to Argentina a year earlier in the quarter-final, lost to England in a penalty shoot-out in the 2018 World Cup round of 16 and now lost to Chile in the quarter-final, again in a penalty shoot-out. Queiroz will have to take care of this problem to succeed.
Is the future looks bright?
Of course. In the upcoming year, Colombia will have two critical missions: First, the 2022 World Cup qualifiers will get underway in March. Three months later will be the primary mission, when Colombia and Argentina will host the 2020 Copa America. 18 years ago, when Colombia hosted the tournament for the last time, they won their only international title. That will be the greatest opportunity of the current golden generation, which most of the players are at their prime, to finally win a major title. After the CONMEBOL officially confirmed that the final match would take place in Colombia, you can say that every option besides playing in the final would be a failure. In the previous tournaments, they had different squads with so much potential, but in the end, they couldn't live up the expectations. Based on what they've shown so far and with Juan Quintero who should play in the next Copa America, the fans have a lot of reasons to be optimistic, when it seems that within five months coach Queiroz managed to cause to forget Pekerman and win their love.