Colombia had an exceptional last World Cup where they reached the quarter-finals and captured the imagination of an entire nation back home. The success was mainly on the back of some fine performances by star midfielder James Rodriguez whose goal against Uruguay is still fresh in the minds of the fans. Hence, there is a certain level of expectation from all quarters for Colombia to do well in the FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia and their experienced coach Jose Pekerman knows all about the pressure of such big tournaments. FIFA World Cup 2018 Schedule in IST for PDF Download: Fixtures, Groups, Time Table with Match Timings & Venue Details of Football WC in Russia.

A lot has changed since the World Cup in 2014 with Colombia sporting an entire new back line with Yerry Mina, Oscar Murillo and Davison Sanchez leading the defensive line. The retirement of Mario Yepes means his experience will certainly be missed, but Cristian Zapata is set for another shot at the World Cup. Arsenal’s reserve keeper David Ospina is undoubtedly the No 1 in the Colombian lineup and a series of outings in the later part of the season means he has found match sharpness.

The bulk of the attacking part will be carried out by James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado who have the task of opening up the opposition defenses. Although, Pekerman also has Carlos Sanchez of Fiorentina to fall upon if things are not particularly going well. With Colombia playing with a system consisting of a lone striker, national icon Radamel Falcao will be under the spotlight to deliver.

Road to FIFA World Cup 2018

Colombia finished fourth in the South American World Cup qualifiers with 27 points and securing the last automatic World Cup berth. They were separated from Peru by a margin of 1 point who played the inter-continental qualifiers. James Rodriguez was the top scorer for Colombia with six goals in a campaign where Colombia managed seven wins.

Colombia Schedule in FIFA World Cup 2018: Group H Fixtures

19th June 2018: Colombia vs Japan

24th June 2018: Poland vs Colombia

28th June 2018: Senegal vs Poland

Performance in the 2014 FIFA World Cup

After a great opening three matches in the group stage against Japan, Greece and Ivory Coast where they coasted to fine victories they defeated a strong Uruguay side 2-0 in the round of 16. Their World Cup ended when Brazil knocked them out 2-1 in a game famous for Neymar’s injury.

Players to watch out for in FIFA World Cup 2018

Radamel Falcao: ‘El Tigre’ as he is popularly known as back home, has found his mojo back again after disastrous spells with Chelsea and Manchester United in England. With Monaco, he reminds us of his peak days again and will be edging to find the back of the net for his nation.

James Rodriguez: It is safe to say that the Bayern Munich play-maker makes this team tick and after the torrid times under Zinedine Zidane in Real Madrid, he is back to his best in Germany. A lot depends on him as his staggering work rate and attacking prowess makes him one of the most lethal players in Russia.

Colombia’s Preliminary 30-Man Squad for 2018 FIFA World Cup

Goalkeepers: David Ospina (Arsenal), Camilo Vargas (Deportivo Cali), Ivan Arboleda (Banfield), Jose Fernando Cuadrado (Once Caldas)

Defenders: Cristian Zapata (Milan), Davinson Sanchez (Tottenham), Santiago Arias (PSV Eindhoven), Oscar Murillo (Pachuca), Frank Fabra (Boca Juniors), Johan Mojica (Girona), Yerry Mina (Barcelona), William Tesillo (Santa Fe), Bernardo Espinosa (Girona), Stefan Medina (Monterrey), Farid Díaz (Olimpia)

Midfielders: Wilmar Barrios (Boca Juniors), Carlos Sanchez (Espanyol), Jefferson Lerma (Levante), Jose Izquierdo (Brighton Hove & Albion), James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich), Giovanni Moreno (Shanghai Shenhua), Abel Aguilar (Deportivo Cali), Mateus Uribe (America), Yimmi Chara (Junior), Juan Fernando Quintero (River Plate), Edwin Cardona (Boca Juniors), Juan Guillermo Cuadrado (Juventus), Gustavo Cuellar (Flamengo), Sebastian Perez (Boca Juniors)

Forwards: Radamel Falcao Garcia (Monaco), Duvan Zapata (Sampdoria), Miguel Borja (Palmeiras), Carlos Bacca (Villarreal), Luis Fernando Muriel (Sevilla), Teofilo Gutierrez (Junior).

Colombian head coach Pekerman will have until June 4 to trim his squad to 23. Colombia begins their FIFA World Cup 2018 campaign against Japan on June 19 followed by Poland on June 24 and Senegal on June 28 in the remaining league-stage matches.

(The above story first appeared on LatestLY on May 17, 2018 08:43 PM IST. For more news and updates on politics, world, sports, entertainment and lifestyle, log on to our website