Saturday, November 15, 2014

Colombian gold melts the solid States

Colombian gold melts the solid States.
International Friendly, London
USA 1:2 COLOMBIA

'Meaningless' friendlies are supposed to be on borrowed time. The national associations are getting fed up of endless spats with big clubs who don't want their precious stars coming back injured from international duty.

But any skeptics of these games' value should have been at Craven Cottage tonight where Colombia and the USA went at it all guns blazing.

The sell-out crowd who turned up on the back of both nations' impressive World Cup showings got their value for money after a fiery friendly by the Thames.

Both teams picked up where their World Cups in Brazil had ended - the USA still stout, well-marshalled and trying to win via counter-attacks and set pieces against superior opponents, and Colombia fearlessly positive with an attacking and energetic game-plan.

The crowd made the occasion memorable. Despite US Soccer hosting a 'home' game, London's oft-forgotten Colombian community had turned out en masse: Cumbia drums, straw hats and flags aplenty, children decked out in national colours and plenty of beautiful women. This was a national carnival run riot.

When Colombia pulled back Jozy Altidore's early penalty for the US with strikes from Carlos Bacca and Teofilo Gutierrez, their fans celebrated as wildly as anything Fulham had seen before. And whenever James Rodriguez, skippering the side, merely touched the ball, the decibel level shot up.

2-1 to Colombia was a fair result given their dominance of the 90 minutes, but once again Jurgen Klinsmann showed his US eleven are no pushovers and can startle the great, in this case the team who are third in the FIFA World Rankings.

The Americans kept their shape and solidity and in Brazil 2014 stars Kyle Beckerman, John Brooks and Jermaine Jones, have a new spine to build around.

The US also had attacking elements which could trouble Colombia, albeit in isolation. And they certainly had their chances.

Altidore, still forgotten about by Sunderland, maintained his double life as a first-choice international striker, worrying Colombia's modest centre-back pairing of Pedro Franco and Jeison Murillo with his prize-fighter's physique.

On the right flank, DeAndre Yedlin's fast feet reminded Tottenham fans what they can look forward to when he makes the move from Seattle in 2015.

A quicksilver dash by Yedlin late in the game almost yielded a goal but Pablo Armero's last gasp lunge saved the day.

Debutant US striker Rubio Rubin, all of 18 years old, was a revelation, slotting effortlessly into the starting lineup and providing Altidore with a talented foil in attack. On his knees in prayer before the kick-off, the Utrecht forward might have had divine assistance.

But the magic deserted him just after half time when he guided a header from Alejandro Bedoya's delightful cross achingly just wide of the Colombian net.

The Hawaiian Bobby Wood, old by Rubin's standards at 22, was another useful young marksman who equally spurned a chance, toe-poking a shot at Colombian goalie Camilo Vargas at the end of a lovely move forged by US substitutes DaMarcus Beasley and Lee Nguyen.

Rodriguez had it tough, surrounded by American jerseys every time he loitered in his favourite spot, in the centre, twenty yards from the opposition goal. His goalscoring threat remained limited to set pieces until on the hour mark he was instrumental in Colombia's equaliser.

Combining with Bacca on the edge of the box, the Real Madrid man slotted his return pass expertly between US defenders for the Sevilla striker to bypass Brad Guzan and fire home from an acute angle.

Bacca found himself sidelined in Brazil but started tonight ahead of Jackson Martinez and Adrian Ramos, and made a virtuoso audition for being Colombia's main striker in the absence of Falcao, who was watching from the stands, wrapped up warm and nursing a calf injury.

He almost found the target in the first half, swerving a shot inches wide of the post after twenty minutes and finding the woodwork on the half hour mark.

Colombia's winner came three minutes from time when Gutierrez met a cross from substitute Edwin Cardona and flicked his header past the diving Guzan. It was as much as they deserved.

Juan Cuadrado, once again, was their real ace in the pack. The Fiorentina winger was the most lively of Jose Pekerman's soldiers from the start, beat players with effortless abandon and almost scored himself late on when he forced Guzan into a diving stop.

Colombia have quickly come from nowhere, no World Cup qualification since 1998 to be precise, to being one of the most feared teams in the world.

Their insistence on playing on the front foot, often involving five men streaking upfield in attack, has rightly made them popular in world football, as have their joyful dancing celebrations, which they performed en cue in London this evening.

Being ranked just behind World Cup finalists Germany and Argentina is some reward for Brazil kicking them out at the quarter-final stage in the summer, with unpunished rotation fouling on James.

Maintaining that momentum into the 2016 Copa America and the 2018 World Cup with elevated expectations is now the challenge for their gentlemanly coach Jose Pekerman. On tonight's evidence, their World Cup fever is still high.

The US, ranked 23rd by comparison, can console themselves with another steady performance with more promising youngsters making the step up to the national team. Klinsmann, who is also the technical director of US Soccer, is witnessing his masterplan of uniting the myriad branches of the American game beginning to bear fruit.

On Tuesday he takes his side to Dublin for a friendly with Eire, while Colombia visit the beautiful city of Ljubljana to take on Slovenia.

Unlike European teams who qualify for the European Championships, teams in North and South America qualify automatically for their regional tournaments, which makes games like tonight's so vital for gaining experience.

Colombia and the United States at least, kept the friendly fires burning.

GOALS: Altidore (USA) 1:0 10', Bacca (COL) 1:1 60', Gutierrez (COL) 1:2 87'

USA: Guzan, Johnson, Garza (Beasley 70'), Brooks, Yedlin (Green 86'), Jones, Beckerman, Diskerud (Nguyen 78'), Bedoya (Morales 67'), Altidore, Rubin (Wood 67')
COL: Vargas, Armero, Franco, Arias, Murillo, Aguilar (Cardona 74'), Sanchez, Cuadrado (Quintero 88'), Rodriguez, Gutierrez (Martinez 89'), Bacca (Ramos 79')

Attendance: 24,235

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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