2014 World Cup Team Preview: Colombia

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Getting to know… Colombia
Colombia are one of the sides tapped to be a dark horse in this year’s World Cup. In fact, they’ve been tipped by so many to make a splash that the term “dark horse” likely no longer applies. Perhaps it’s better to view Colombia as a white knight, riding in to rescue a tournament which might, without them, simply be way too boring.

But the Colombia team hasn’t always been so swift, so intimidating, so…fun. In fact, it’s been more than fifteen years since we’ve seen them at a World Cup. Their last appearance was in France, when they failed to make it past the group stages. In their four appearances in the tournament, their most successful was in Italia ’90, when they made it to the Round of 16.

Los cafeteros have never won more than one game at the World Cup. This could be the year that all changes. They go to Brazil armed with plenty of attacking talent, with (hopefully fit) Radamel Falcao, James Rodríguez and Jackson Martínez just a few of the names that are available to terrorize defenses. But their defense is strong as well, making Colombia a truly formidable opponent.

Record in qualifying
CONMEBOL qualifiers require all South American teams (except with the exception of hosts Brazil this time around) to play each other twice, home and away. So Colombia can’t be accused of having an easy group, or a simpler route to qualifying than the rest of the continent’s sides.

Yet they still managed to reach second in CONMEBOL qualifying, two points behind heavyweights Brazil, and five points ahead of Uruguay, who were so successful in South Africa. Colombia scored 27 goals in 16 matches while conceding just 13, the lowest total on the continent.

A look at Group C 
Will winning the group be a breeze for Colombia? It certainly doesn’t look challenging. First up is Greece, who are known for their defensive style of play. But when up against quality opponents in UEFA qualifying, Greece caved and conceded. It should be no problem for Colombia to get goals.

Then comes Ivory Coast, a rather aging squad. They’ll need to worry about Yaya Touré and the seemingly never-ending threat of Didier Drogba, but again, Colombia should come out on top. Japan may worry the cafeteros defense, but their own back line isn’t the most solid, so the closing match should at least provide plenty of attacking thrills.

Game schedule

Saturday, June 14 at 12 noon ET: Colombia vs. Greece (Estadio Mineirão, Belo Horizonte)

Thursday, June 19 at 12 noon ET: Colombia vs. Ivory Coast (Nacional, Brasilia)

Tuesday, June 24 at 4 p.m. ET: Japan vs. Colombia (Arena Pantanal, Cuiabá)

Star player
For better or for worse, Colombia’s star is Radamel Falcao. He hasn’t played since his injury and subsequent operation in January, but he’s still set to be included when José Pékerman names his final squad. The forward scored nine goals in thirteen qualifying matches, and his partnership with Monaco teammate James Rodríguez should not be understated. The midfielder is a key creator for Colombia, but it’s Falcao that applies the finish. If Falcao suffers another injury setback, Jackson Martínez will step in, but will he and James click the same?

Manager
José Pékerman lead Argentina to the quarterfinals of the 2006 World Cup, then spent time managing in Mexico. He accepted the position of Colombia head coach in January 2012, becoming the third manager of los cafeteros during the 2014 qualifying stages. He came in after the side lost to Argentina, and that’s when the Colombian revolution began.

It’s Pékerman that has exploited Colombia’s wealth of attacking talent. His 4-2-2-2 system not only takes advantage of the likes of Falcao, but also makes use of Colombia’s talented wide players, like Napoli’s Camilo Zúñiga and Fiorentina’s Juan Cuadrado.

Secret weapon
Coffee!

No, not really. I have no idea if the Colombia national team sips a lot of coffee. But it’s appropriate that their nickname is los cafeterosor the coffee-growers. Although Colombia has left much of its violent past behind, the country’s name still conjures up armed guerrillas and drug cartels. About the only previous positive association most people could make with Colombia was its delicious coffee.

Now, Colombia could very well be associated with free-flowing, attack-minded football as well.

Prediction

I have Colombia emerging top of Group C and going on to face Italy in the Round of 16. After Italy’s performance against Ireland, I’m tipping Colombia to move on to the quarter-finals, where they’ll be knocked out by Brazil.

Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer out until 2018

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Bayern Munich have been handed a big blow as goalkeeper and captain Manuel Neuer has been ruled out until early 2018 after surgery on his broken left foot.

Neuer, 31, will not return before January and the German international star will leave a huge void as Carlo Ancelotti’s side aim to push for a four-straight Bundesliga title and challenge for the UEFA Champions League.

The German national team will be hoping Neuer does not face any complications in his recovery with Joachim Loew’s men the favorites for the 2018 World Cup next summer in Russia.

In his absence former Germany U-21 goalkeeper Sven Ulreich will step up as the new No.1 at the Allianz Arena with the German goalkeeper patiently waiting for his chance in Bavaria since arriving from Stuttgart in 2015.

Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said that Neuer’s operation “went perfectly” and the German giants are looking forward to his return.

The Bundesliga powerhouse have won three of their opening four league games to start the season but there has been some criticism for Ancelotti and his players, especially following the 2-0 shock defeat at Hoffenheim.

Losing one of the best goalkeepers on the planet is sure to test Bayern’s defensive unit and they have a tough job on their hands to qualify for the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds as the top seed as they battle with Paris Saint-Germain to win Group B ahead of Anderlecht and Celtic.

Pulisic nominated for 2017 Golden Boy

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U.S. national team teenager Christian Pulisic has been nominated for the prestigious Golden Boy award.

The award, run by Italian outlet Tuttosport, goes to the top player in European soccer under the age of 21 over the past 12 months.

[ MORE: JPW speaks to USMNT’s Pulisic ]

Pulisic, who turned 19 yesterday, has been a star for Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga over the past 12 months and has nine goals and 14 assists in 61 appearances for the German side. He also has seven goals in 18 appearances for the USMNT.

Marcus Rashford, Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele are expected to challenge for the trophy but the Pennsylvania native being among the final nominees for the award proves how highly regarded he is on the global stage.

[ MORE: Breaking down Pulisic at 19 ]

Seven players from the Premier League have also been included in the shortlist of nominees with Rashford from Manchester United, Gabriel Jesus from Manchester City, Joe Gomez and Dominic Solanke from Liverpool, Dominic Calvert-Lewin from Everton, Reece Oxford from West Ham (on loan at Borussia Monchengladbach) and Kyle Walker-Peters from Tottenham all getting recognition.

The 25 nominees for the 2017 Golden Boy award are in full below.


Aaron Martin, Espanyol
Jean-Kevin Augustin, RB Leipzig
Rodrigo Bentacur, Juventus
Steven Bergwijn, PSV Eindhoven
Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Everton
Federico Chiesa, Fiorentina
Ousmane Dembele, Barcelona
Amadou Diawara, Napoli
Kasper Dolberg, Ajax
Gianluigi Donnarumma, Milan
Gabriel Jesus, Manchester City
Joe Gomez, Liverpool
Benjamin Henrichs, Bayer Leverkusen
Borja Mayoral, Real Madrid
Kylian Mbappe, Paris Saint-Germain
Emre Mor, Celta Vigo
Reece Oxford, Borussia Monchengladbach
Christian Pulisic, Borussia Dortmund
Marcus Rashford, Manchester United
Allan Saint-Maximim, Nice
Dominic Solanke, Liverpool
Theo Hernandez, Real Madrid
Youri Tielemans, Monaco
Enes Unal, Villarreal
Kyle Walker-Peters, Tottenham

Jay Heaps out as New England Revolution boss

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Jay Heaps’ six-year reign at the New England Revolution has come to an end.

On Tuesday morning New England released a statement saying they had “parted ways” with former defender Heaps who took charge in November 2011.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Heaps led the Revs to the 2014 MLS Cup final where they lost in overtime to the LA Galaxy, while he made three-straight trips to the MLS Cup Playoffs to kick off his managerial career and he also led the Revs to the 2016 U.S. Open Cup final where they lost to FC Dallas.

Nine defeats in their last 14 MLS games, including a 7-0 hammering at Atlanta United last week, sealed Heaps’ fate and New England Revolution GM Michael Burns had the following to say about Heaps’ departure.

“Jay has done a great deal for the club over the years and had considerable achievements. I have great respect for him and wish him well in the next steps of his career, “Burns said. “This decision has not been taken lightly, however, we need to do better than the results have shown from the last couple of seasons and this season left us convinced we need to go in a different direction.”

Assistant coach Tom Soehn has been placed in interim charge of the Revs for the remainder of the 2017 season and the Kraft family, who own the MLS franchise, explained why they fired Heaps.

“As a club, we made the decision to remove Jay Heaps as the head coach of our team. We would like to thank Jay for his tremendous contributions to the club over his 15 years as a player and coach. Jay led us to our fifth MLS Cup appearance and our third US Open Cup Final. He made us all proud and as a former player of ours we are very happy to have helped him launch his coaching career and wish him nothing but the best of success in the future.

“Our goal is to field a team each and every season that is competing for championships and over the past couple of seasons we have fallen short of that goal. We will immediately begin a search for a new head coach and are committed to seeing the New England Revolution once again return to championship contention. – Robert and Jonathan Kraft”

With a 75-81-43 record in the regular season and a 4-3-1 record in the postseason as a coach, Heaps is also the longest-serving head coach in Revs history after spending nine seasons as a player for New England. He will remain a legend of the club.

Yet, after early promise in his coaching career things faded badly in New England for Heaps with the Revs failing to make the playoffs in each of the past two seasons. The former U.S. national team defender was one of a wave of MLS head coaches with vast playing experience in the league after the likes of Ben Olsen, Mike Petke, Jesse Marsch and Greg Vanney were also been handed head coaching gigs.

Heaps has brought through many promising young players such as Andrew Farrell, Scott Caldwell and Kelyn Rowe but with the likes of Juan Agudelo and Diego Fagundez unable to kick on in attack the Revs have struggled to compete in the stacked Eastern Conference.

With a new soccer-specific stadium deal for the Revs no closer to fruition than it was when Heaps took charge in 2011 (the $250 million deal for a stadium in Boston’s Bayside Exposition Center collapsed earlier this year) many will question a lack of investment in the team over the years from the Kraft family as the ultimatum reason for recent struggles on the pitch.

That said, the New England job is still a very attractive one and there will no doubt be a range of top-class applicants to oversee the massive rebuild needed, although no overwhelming favorite for the role has emerged.

Man United urged to ban “racist” Romelu Lukaku chant

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Anti-discrimination organization Kick It Out have urged Manchester United to stop their supporters from singing an allegedly racist song about star striker Romelu Lukaku.

The chant, sung to the tune of Made of Stone by the Stone Roses, includes references to a racial stereotype regarding Lukaku’s penis.

Via The Times, Kick It Out released a statement about the song which was heard in both United’s 3-0 UEFA Champions League win against FC Basel last week and also the 4-0 home victory against Everton on Sunday.

“Kick It Out is aware of the footage of the alleged racist chanting by supporters of Manchester United that emerged on Wednesday evening [13 September]. The lyrics used in the chant are offensive and discriminatory. Racist stereotypes are never acceptable in football or wider society, irrespective of showing support for a player.

“We have contacted Manchester United and will be working closely with them and the FA to ensure that the issue is addressed swiftly. The perpetrators can expect to face punishment.”

The club have since released a statement on the matter saying no complaints about the song have so far been filed.

“Manchester United are speaking to the relevant authorities about the song and will act accordingly depending on the advice they’re given. United have a zero tolerance stance towards any forms of racism. Greater Manchester Police have had no complaints about the song at all.”