Without Radamel Falcao, should Colombia finally turn to Fredy Montero?

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José Pekerman already had Fredy Montero in his sights, but with Colombia’s wealth of attackers, it has been difficult for the former Sounders standout to find room. Radamel Falcao, Jackson Martínez, and Teó Gutíerrez have been automatics, and with James Rodríguez also capable of playing an advanced role, the Monaco midfielder offsets the need to select too many forwards. With Carlos Bacca, Carlos Darwin Quintero and Luis Muriel all receiving call ups since October, somebody like Montero has a lot to wade through to make it to shore.

Needless to say, Falcao’s injury changes things. Without their primary scoring threat, Colombia’s going to have to rethink everything, potentially shaking up how Pekerman organizes his team. The Cafeteros’ boss could just slide Martínez into his starting XI next to Gutíerrez, persisting with the same approach with which he finished South American qualifying. He could also decide a tendency to set up with two-striker approach playing to Falcao’s strengths needs to be reevaluated, perhaps leaving the door open for a 26-year-old whose 13 goals for Sporting Lisbon are tied for Portugal’s lead.

Unfortunately for Montero (and Pekerman), there’s almost no time for experimentation. National teams will be able to get together for one game in March. Beyond that, the only games teams will play before May will be without their European players, who will be obliged to their clubs. If the Argentine coach does need to overhaul his setup, he’ll be picking up the pieces as he arrives in Brazil.

That’s where somebody like Montero can help. As opposed to some of the other players who’ve already been called in, there’s a versatility to his game that could allow him to adapt to whatever solutions Pekerman’s forced to employ. He can play along the line, serve his role in a partnership, or be used as more of a creator while deployed in a withdrawn role. If Pekerman needs all options on the table when Colombia arrives in Brazil, Montero can provide them, perhaps more so than players like Bacca, Muriel or Quintero.

Unfortunately for Montero, the depth of Colombia’s attack and the size of FIFA’s World Cup rosters (23 men) means Pekerman doesn’t have to settle for a utility knife. If he wants an out-and-out forward, Bacca or Muriel might be better options. If he decides an on the ball playmaker will be more important in the absence of Falcao, Rodríguez and Macnelly Torres are already regulars in the squad.  Whatever needs end up surfacing in the wake of Falcao’s injury, it’s unclear the answer is Fredy Montero.

Of course, there is another, more obvious need we haven’t addressed: goals. With 20 goals in 50 international appearances, Falcao was Colombia’s only established international scoring threat. Though Gutíerrez has 11 goals in 27 appearances, the Cafeteros will still need to identify somebody to replace Falcao’s scoring.

Carlos Bacca has nine goals for Sevilla this year, and Martínez has a share of Portugal’s scoring lead with 13 goals in 16 games. Along with Montero, they’ve been Colombia’s most productive non-Falcao Europeans.

But as the person who shares Portugal’s scoring lead with Martínez, Montero has a case to make. If 13 goals in Portugal are good enough for Martínez to be a lock, why can’t they earn Montero one of the last spots in Colombia’s squad?

Edit: As @crashcarson15 pointed out in a reply to @NBCSportsSoccer, going by Colombia’s recent caps means I forgot another player who deserves a role in the conversation:

True.

Italian soccer federation signs deal with Chinese government

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ROME (AP) The Italian soccer federation has signed a wide-ranging memorandum with the Chinese government to promote soccer between the two countries.

The deal foresees playing the Italian Super Cup or Italian Cup in China within the next three years.

[ MORE: Upsets in EURO qualifying ]

The Italian Super Cup – which pits the Serie A champion against the Italian Cup champion – has already been played in China four times over the last 10 years.

The meeting with China Media Group head Shen Haixiong also focused on TV content and rights, collaboration over developing young Chinese players in Italy and instruction for using the video assistant referee.

Shen was in Rome for the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Italian federation president Gabriele Gravina says, “Soccer has shown once again to be a bridge between different cultures.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

WATCH: Asprilla scores terrific bicycle kick on USL cameo

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Portland Timbers forward Dairon Asprilla has had to spend some time in the USL Championship this season, and the second tier would probably like to see Gio Savarese keep the Colombian in Major League Soccer.

[ REPORT: Liverpool to sell Keita? ]

Asprilla scored twice and added an assists on Saturday night in a defeat of Eric Wynalda’s Las Vegas Lights, and he put up a near picture perfect bicycle kick on the highlight reel.

Watch as he sets himself up, willingly or not, for the endeavor before splashing a shot in the side panel for an amazing aesthetic.

Report: Bayern, BVB ready to buy Keita from Liverpool

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A report claims that Liverpool is ready to admit defeat in the case of Naby Keita.

Keita, 24, was bought from RB Leipzig last season and arrived at Anfield in the summer, but has struggled to find consistent playing time under Jurgen Klopp.

[ VIDEO: USMNT’s Saief shines for FC Cincinnati ]

Viewed as the missing link between the Virgil Van Dijk and Liverpool’s torrential attack, Keita has not come close to replicating the form that saw his price tag reach $69 million.

Indeed, Team Talk says Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich look prepared to pay around $53 million to bring Keita back to the Bundesliga.

Keita has played 27 matches in all competitions for Liverpool, accumulating 1,388 minutes and just one assist. He had nine goals and seven assists in more than double the minutes one season ago.

According to WhoScored.com, he’s passing the ball better and taking almost a foul less than last season, but almost every other measurable has declined since he moved to England.

I’m as guilty as anyone of thinking Keita would be everything the Reds required after an improved 2017-18, but he’s either being used very poorly or having trouble adjusting to the culture.

It’s early to quit on a player so talented, but maybe Klopp and he just don’t mesh well. But if it isn’t a case of clashing with the club, it may be worth waiting out a player who looked a giant just eight months ago.

EURO qualifying: Hungary stings Croatia, Israel hangs 4 on Austria

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It wasn’t just Germany and the Netherlands staging a tight and entertaining match in EURO 2020 qualifying on Sunday.

[ VIDEO: Saief, Manneh lead FC Cincinnati ]

Hungary 2-1 Croatia

Ante Rebic’s early goal made a “business as usual” statement for the World Cup runners-up, but Hungary can be a handful against any opponents and rallied at home.

Hoffenheim striker Adam Szalai brought the hosts level at halftime, and Mate Patkai gave Hungary a deserved 2-1 win in Budapest.

Coming three days after a loss in Slovakia to start qualifying, it was an early almost-must-win for Marco Rossi’s men.

Israel 4-2 Austria

Marko Arnautovic‘s brace in defeat couldn’t have come with different vibes. His eighth minute marker gave the Austrians a leg up, his 75th minute goal meaning very little with the side having conceded four-straight in between.

China-based striker Eran Zahavi scored a hat trick for Israel, and RB Salzburg star Munas Dabbur scored the fourth goal to keep the hosts within sight of first place Poland.

Austria is winless through two qualifiers.

Elsewhere
Wales 1-0 Slovakia
Cyprus 0-2 Belgium
San Marino 0-2 Scotland
Netherlands 2-3 Germany — RECAP, VIDEO
Northern Ireland 2-1 Belarus
Poland 2-0 Latvia
Slovenia 1-1 Macedonia
Kazakhstan 0-4 Russia