Jose Pekerman will hope the return of star man James Rodriguez can get Colombia back to winning ways in their CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying campaign against Chile.
After an opening victory over Peru last month, Colombia slipped to a disappointing 3-0 defeat to Uruguay last time out – a game that also saw Juan Cuadrado sent off.
James missed both of those qualifiers due to a thigh injury but returns for back-to-back fixtures this month, starting in Santiago on Thursday before they host a repeat of their Copa America quarter-final against Argentina.
The Real Madrid playmaker made his return in his club’s match at Sevilla on Sunday, coming off the bench to score their second goal in a 3-2 defeat.
But while Pekerman is boosted by James’ comeback, he will be without striker Radamel Falcao, who is ruled out with a muscular problem.
The coach has six debutants at his disposal – including Felipe Pardo as Falcao’s replacement – for the clash with Chile, as they look to put their loss to Uruguay behind them.
“We are going to confront Chile with power and determination,” said Colombia midfielder Fredy Guarin. “[We will] be aggressive, mentally strong and try to press at every moment of the game.
“It will be important for us to have [possession of] the ball and be focused when chances come.”
Copa America winners Chile head into Thursday’s clash on a run of 10 games without defeat.
Jorge Sampaoli’s team have beaten Brazil and Peru in their two qualifiers to date, with Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas sharing their six goals equally.
And Pekerman is well aware of the challenge awaiting his side this week.
“Chile are benefitting from a team that has the same formation for more than seven years,” he added.
“Both the team and individuals have grown. They are among the elite team with great players.”
Chie and Colombia last met in World Cup qualifying in October 2013, when Pekerman’s team came from 3-0 down with just 21 minutes remaining to snatch a 3-3 draw in Barranquilla.
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