Copa America Centenario starts on Friday with a mouth-watering match between the United States and Colombia at Levi’s Stadium.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The Colombian National Team is currently ranked as the third best team in the world according to the latest FIFA Rankings. They have star players in Real Madrid, AC Milan and Juventus. The last time they were on the world stage, in Brazil, they became fan-favorites as they danced their way to the World Cup Quarterfinals with a sizzling James Rodríguez.
Still, the Americans are unfazed.
The United States is set to open Copa America Centenario against Colombia on Friday and head coach Jurgen Klinsmann offered a bullish view ahead of the match.
“Of course when you face a team that has that kind of talent up front with James, with [Carlos] Bacca, with [Juan] Cuadrado, with [Edwin] Cardona they’re all difference makers, but obviously they’re also beatable,” Klinsmann said during a press conference on Thursday at Levi’s Stadium. “Every team has its strengths and weaknesses. I think we’ve learned a lot over the past couple of years playing against big teams.”
Klinsmann pointed specifically to the defensive spaces offensive-minded teams like Colombia team leave behind. It seems clear that the Americans will attempt to counterattack and test the Colombian defense in the air from dead-ball situations.
“We’re doing our homework and we know how fast they can transition from defending into attacking,” he said. “But we also see that they [have] weaknesses behind as well so hopefully we can take advantage of that.”
Klinsmann has a point as Colombia has given up goals off dead-ball plays in three of their last five games in World Cup Qualifying. They also conceded against Haiti during their last friendly in preparation for Copa America, which they won 3-1.
Still, Colombia head coach Jose Pekerman brushed aside the idea that his team has weaknesses in defense, insisting that people are reading too much into it.
“Like all teams, sometimes we get scored on off a cross. I don’t agree with the notion that we have big defensive problems and in the air,” he said during Colombia’s press conference. “Haiti scored on us. We have ways to control that.”
Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina was also dismissive of the idea that Colombia is struggling defensively, saying that he feels “relaxed and confident” with his abilities and the players he has in front of him.
“I think that over time the team has become more solid,” the Arsenal man said. “We showed that against Haiti and also in the last games of the qualifiers. That puts us at ease and we’re ready for this tournament.”
Colombia’s confidence going into Copa America and their talented offense will surely create plenty of problems for Klinsmann’s squad, something US Captain Michael Bradley is fully aware of. As the player pulling the strings in midfield, Bradley knows how important it will be for his teammates to stay disciplined and focused throughout the match.
“They have a lot of good players, so for us is about how we move as a group and make sure that their guys don’t have it easy,” he said before Thursday’s training session. “You play against good players and at certain moments they’re going to make plays. In those moments we have to make sure our reactions are good and we’re able to recover quickly.”
The opening game promises to be a clash of strategies with the Colombians looking to keep the ball and the Americans waiting for their opportunity to score off crosses and by using their speed. A positive result in the first game is crucial, especially considering that Group A also includes Paraguay and Costa Rica. It will be a difficult game for the hosts, but Klinsmann believes they can walk away with the result.
“We respect them a lot but on the other side we have no fear,” he said. “We have a team that’s very hungry; we have players that can match up their players.”