Rio de Janeiro: Colombia had offered citizenship to manager Jose Pekerman after he guided them to the World Cup after 16 years and the Argentine might get a shot at the country’s presidency if he inspires Los Cafeteros to a win over Brazil in the quarterfinal here. The one-time taxi driver is as popular as Shakira in Colombia at the moment. Pekerman has done what no Colombian had ever done before.
After a series of forgettable campaigns in the 90s, Colombia are now three steps away from the ultimate prize in football. Mauricio, who has come to Brazil from Colombia for the World Cup, said his country feared no one in the competition. “On the contrary, other countries including Brazil fear us. We have the talent to go all the way. Everyone will realise it after the Brazil match,” he said.
Colombia owe their new-found confidence to Pekerman. The unassuming Argentine, who took over the reins in 2012, has built a fine side that is catchy as well as effective. In four matches in Brazil, Colombia have scored 11 goals, conceded only two. Pekerman’s experience of working with young players __ he won three world U-20 titles for Argentina in 1995, 1997 and 2001 __ has helped him get the best out of young players including the new hero, James Rodriguez who is only 23 years old.
Many expected Colombia to wilt in the absence of Radamel Falcao, who missed out on the World Cup after failing to recover from a knee injury. Instead, the Colombians have flourished. Pekerman’s tactical and technical knowledge has made Colombia the team to look out for in the knockout stage. If the 64-year-old Argentine takes Colombia to the semi-finals, he will have surpassed his achievement with his native country at the 2006 World Cup.
Colombia owe a great debt of gratitude to Pekerman because he has helped people from other countries forget the killing of Andres Escobar for an own goal at the 1994 World Cup and talk about Los Cafeteros’ impressive football in Brazil.