5 Colombia players to watch at the World Cup
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) Colombia is still hoping it will be able to count on striker Radamel Falcao when it plays in the World Cup for the first time in 16 years.
Falcao has been working hard to recover from a knee injury that has put his participation in doubt. If he doesn't heal by the time the World Cup arrives, it will be up to 22-year-old James Rodriguez, Falcao's teammate at Monaco, to carry the hopes of Colombian fans.
With or without Falcao, Colombia has a solid squad that cruised through South American qualifying, finishing second only to Argentina in the nine-team group. Its defense was the best in the region, led by veteran Mario Yepes.
Here are five players to watch:
He is by far the biggest name in Colombia's squad, but it remains uncertain whether Radamel Falcao will be able to showcase his talent in Brazil.
The striker who joined Monaco from Atletico Madrid tore left knee ligaments in a French Cup game in January.
Colombians have all their hopes pinned on Falcao's recovery, knowing that if he can play the team's chances of surprising in this year's tournament increase significantly.
Nicknamed ''El Tigre,'' the 28-year-old Falcao has remained optimistic about his chances of making it to Brazil, saying that his knee has been improving day after day. But it won't be known until the eve of the tournament if his recovery was successful.
Talented midfielder James Rodriguez will be arriving at the World Cup in top form.
Rodriguez successfully took over the scoring role at Monaco after Radamel Falcao got sidelined because of a left-knee injury in January.
Few will question what Rodriguez can do as a playmaker, but he has also been able to show that he can be extremely effective as a goalscorer.
Considered by many in Colombia as the successor to iconic midfielder Carlos Valderrama, the 22-year-old Rodriguez was a regular in Colombia's youth squads and will have his first chance to prove his worth at a top international competition.
Versatile midfielder Fredy Guarin has played for the national team since 2006 and his experience will be key for the talented young Colombian squad in Brazil.
Guarin has been playing well with Inter Milan and signed a contract extension with the Italian club until 2017, eliminating a distraction that could have kept him from focusing on the tournament in Brazil.
The 27-year-old player was upset after nearly being sent to rival Juventus in January and launched an attack against his club because he didn't want to leave.
Jackson Martinez has been attracting a lot of attention since Radamel Falcao got injured.
If Falcao can't make it to Brazil, it will likely leave Martinez in charge of scoring the goals for Colombia.
Martinez has scored more than 40 goals since joining FC Porto in 2012. The striker admitted he is open to a move to a Premier League team in the near future, and playing well at the World Cup should significantly boost his chances.
Mario Yepes will finally play in a World Cup after nearly 100 matches with the national team.
The 38-year-old former Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan defender thrived at club level, but his only title with Colombia was the 2001 Copa America.
With his nation finally reaching the World Cup after 16 years, the veteran will be in charge of a defense that thrived in South American qualifying, allowing only 13 goals in 16 matches, the best in the region.