Radamel Falcao, Juan Cuadrado, and Carlos Sanchez were denied the chance to light up the Premier League, but it is a player who looked to have lost his way who could prove the biggest thorn in England's side when the two teams meet for a place in the World Cup quarter-finals
Colombia's English transients have a point to prove, but it's Quintero who looks 'the real deal'
If England’s footballers want a quick boost to morale ahead of Tuesday’s meeting in Moscow with Colombia, they should look over the opposition teamsheet through the filter of the Premier League. Radamel Falcao? One season at Manchester United and a mere four league goals. One season at Chelsea, even worse: a single goal.
Juan Cuadrado? The winger lasted little more than seven months at Chelsea, signed for a hefty fee, swiftly discarded, derided as the Flop of the Year in the title-winning campaign of 2014/15? David Ospina? Very much second choice in goal for Arsenal. Carlos Sanchez? Part of the limp Aston Villa relegated two summers ago.
Comforting details, perhaps, but the wrong lens through which to assess a Colombia with an admirable knack of overcoming setbacks. Falcao’s English episode, those low-key loan spells from Monaco to United and Chelsea, coincided with an injury-plagued period of the striker’s otherwise prolific career in Portugal, Spain and France. Cuadrado at Chelsea had an unforgiving task: limited minutes to dribble down the wing, no opportunity to build up the momentum that has made him one of Serie A’s most penetrating players, and a serial champion with Juventus.
Ospina? Being the designated cup-specialist gloveman at Arsenal has at least brought some glory at a club where it is scarce: He won an FA Cup last year. As for Sanchez, now of Fiorentina, he was injured for much of Villa’s calamitous plunge towards the Championship.
Sanchez has also been a key actor in Colombia’s story of recovery in Russia, although not in the way he would have wished. He was sent off three minutes into the opening match, against Japan, for a handball in the penalty area. From the subsequent spot kick, they fell behind.
It was a catastrophic start to a group where there was never likely to be much margin for error, with fixtures against Poland and Senegal to come. Colombia set about finding solutions. They were down to 10 men; they were also without their most talented man, James Rodriguez, because of a muscle strain that continues to pester him and looks likely to restrict his participation against England.
Step forward Juanfer Quintero, an ingenious attacking midfielder who, like Rodriguez, has a charmed left foot and a sharp eye for the tiny gap where a pass might be threaded, or, as against Japan, a goal eked out. Quintero took the free kick that pulled 10-man Colombia back into the game against Japan, slipping his shot under the defensive wall.
Quintero’s expertise from set pieces has been a boon. He delivered the corner from which Yerry Mina scored the only goal of the game against Senegal that propelled Colombia to the top of their competitive group. His performance against Poland was exceptional. “He’s a little guy but with so much confidence about him,” said Lukasz Fabianksi, the Poland goalkeeper, who was relieved to be watching that fixture, a 3-0 Colombia win, from the bench. “He’s a really good player in a team with so much quality in midfield.”
Yet Quintero has largely hidden his qualities in the past four years. He made an momentary impact, as a 21 year old, at the last World Cup scoring his first international goal in a group game against Ivory Coast. But he was used as an option from the bench while his childhood friend, Rodriguez, shone, the tournament’s leading scorer.
Quintero played for Porto at the time, but would soon lose his status there. Word was he also lost his focus. His club career since has been a hopscotch of loans, at Rennes in France, at Independiente in Medellin, Colombia and most recently at River Plate in Buenos Aires, where a purchase option from Porto was agreed that River are now rather pleased about. Quintero, who had all but disappeared from consideration from Colombia manager Jose Pekerman until his international recall in March, has made the last two weeks quite a shop window.
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The experienced Pekerman, sensitive to the ups and downs Quintero has been through - and not just professionally: he lost his father as a very young child in what has been reported as a politically-motivated "disappearance" - manages the player carefully, geeing him up constantly. Against Poland, Pekerman called him to the touchline to bellow: “Juanfer, you’re the real deal, you’re a star!”
In Moscow on Tuesday, Quintero has his biggest chance to prove it. There’s a perfect opportunity, too, for those former, unfulfilled Premier League transients to show the English game their true selves.
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