By Rex Gowar
CUIABA Brazil (Reuters) - Colombia want to boost their World Cup tally of five goals against Japan on Tuesday and finish the group stage with three wins for the first time, coach Jose Pekerman said.
But he told reporters at the Pantanal arena on Monday his team would be wary of the Asian champions’ need to salvage a disappointing tournament so far with a good win.
Japan’s ambitions were dented by a 2-1 loss to Ivory Coast followed by a 0-0 draw with Greece while Colombia, at their first finals since 1998, crushed the Greeks 3-0 and beat the African side 2-1 to qualify from Group C with a match to spare.
“The team can score goals and that’s something very important... Colombia are repeating a history of always having been able to score,” Pekerman said.
He said his team had the virtue of being patient and this had been rewarded with victories after they had to overcome the loss of their talisman Radamel Falcao through injury.
“Colombia have been patient (and) this is possible when there are good players and they all work for an objective. That gives you results and is what has happened to us in recent times,” Pekerman said.
The Argentine said the way Colombia and their fans had overcome the huge disappointment of Falcao’s knee ligament injury and his failure to recover for the tournament had been remarkable.
“Everyone in football no doubt knows Falcao’s performances and for Colombia he was decisive for this team to be here,” he said.
“But at the same time the response of all the players has been exceptional and for me as coach it’s proof of their capacity and character to be able to play the way they have.”
Pekerman has clearly played a major role in steering the squad through the difficulty of coping without Falcao, who top-scored for them with nine goals in the South American qualifiers.
The focus he brings to the players will help them against Japan who need the three points and for the result of Greece’s match with Ivory Coast in Fortaleza to go their way if they are to join Colombia in the first knockout round.
“It’s going to be an intense match given the technical characteristics of the two teams and against rivals who need to win and will show the best they’ve got,” he said.
“Japan had the highest expectations after all their preparations, friendly matches, they were among the first teams to qualify (for Brazil), they have an experienced coach, players with three consecutive World Cups which all pointed to a better performance.
“Tomorrow with that background, they’re a team who can rise again and win the match.”
(Editing by Ed Osmond)