Radamel Falcao will be looking to silence his critics when Colombia host Peru in their 2018 World Cup qualification opener on Thursday.
The Chelsea striker was his country’s undisputed star man not too long ago, but he has been struggling to find his best form since returning from the serious knee injury that kept him out of the 2014 World Cup.
Falcao was reinstated to the Colombia starting XI for the Copa America in Chile in June and July, but failed to make much of an impact and was criticised for his underwhelming performances.
However, with Real Madrid’s James Rodriguez unavailable due to injury, all eyes will be on Falcao once more and goalkeeper David Ospina is adamant that the national team still believe in their one-time talisman.
“We know the quality of Falcao,” he said. “We are calm.
“We must respect the work of Peru. They are excellent players with a mix of experience and youth. They have important players in their respective teams.
“They are strong defensively, have a great goalkeeper, great forwards and are a very compact team.”
Colombia will be heading into this week’s encounter as the favourites, but they will be all too aware that Peru are no pushovers following their 1-1 friendly draw in September.
Jose Pekerman’s men still have plenty of reason for optimism. They have not lost in their past four matches against Peru, winning two and drawing two.
Peru, meanwhile, will draw strength from both last month’s draw against Colombia, as well as from their impressive performances at the Copa America.
Ricardo Gareca’s men made it to the semi-finals in Chile, only to be narrowly beaten by the hosts.
Attacker Paolo Guerrero was one of the stars of the tournament with four goals and he will be determined to add to his tally against Colombia, needing only two more to leapfrog Teofilo Cubillas as Peru’s all-time leading goalscorer.
Nevertheless, Peru face an uphill task to qualify for the World Cup in Russia. They last made it to the finals in 1982, when they were eliminated at the group stages.
The Peruvians had to settle for seventh place in the table in their last attempt to qualify for a World Cup, collecting just 15 points from 16 games.