Colombia progressed from the very difficult Group H with wins over Senegal and Poland, and a loss to Japan that was hard to infer much from due to Carlos Sanchez’s very early red card. One of Colombia’s stand out players so far has been Juan Quintero, the attacking midfielder who has been starting in the number 10 position for Jose Pekerman’s side.
Quintero has been at Porto since 2013, but has spent the last three seasons away from the club on loan, firstly at Rennes, then Independiente Medellin and River Plate. At 25, Quintero is a few years from his peak, but has yet to make over 50 appearances for one of the seven clubs he has represented. It is a stop-start career progression, with no major clubs on his resume, that could indicate a player who may not fulfil the potential that was observed when he was a teenager with Pescara; nonetheless, he has been brilliant so far in Russia.
Colombia’s 4-2-3-1 is lop-sided, with Juan Cuadrado giving more natural width from the right-hand side of the attacking midfield three, while James Rodriguez tucks inside on the left, swapping with Quintero. Both players drop off to link Colombia’s fairly workmanlike, ball-winning central double pivot, so that there is the chance to progress the ball. Quintero especially works as a link to Radamel Falcao, who plays as the lone striker, taking a pass and spinning to release the ball at a different angle. This changing of the direction of play is something at which Quintero excels, with his vision and execution making him a player that needs to be tightly watched and marked.
On the left-hand side, left back Johan Mojica gets forward a lot, almost acting as a wing back or winger, while right-back Santiago Arias does push up or tuck inside into central midfield, with Cuadrado dropping back into the right wing-back position. This swap causes issues for teams that go man for man with their marking, but it also creates a system that can look like a 3-4-2-1, with Sanchez or highly rated Boca Juniors midfielder Wilmar Barrios dropping off alongside the centre back, Arias or Cuadrado giving width on the right and Mojica on the left, and James and Quintero floating in the eight to ten positions.
James and Quintero have been compared, as national colleagues and similar players, throughout their careers. Quintero is probably the more natural central attacking midfielder of the two, though he does possess great dribbling skills and a good left-footed shot. James played more as a second striker cutting inside in 2014, and this season at Bayern, he has played as a deeper playmaker in midfield as well as in the number ten role. James is the better player, but Quintero excels at taking the ball in tight spaces and moving the play on despite being under pressure, and has a superb eye for a pass, especially angled balls out towards Cuadrado. Together, they make a tricky pair and, should James’ injury issues reappear, Quintero will have to shoulder much of Colombia’s creative burden – James’ replacement on the left, Luis Muriel, is a pacey, direct player who can start as a forward as well as out wide, but he does not have the playmaking skills of James or Quintero.
Colombia are a side who look in the first instance to be quite straightforward: a 4-2-3-1, with sitting midfielders, a number 10 and two wide attackers, and a strong centre-forward. In actuality, they play with a huge amount of movement: midfielders dropping and pushing, Cuadrado popping up at right-back, and James and Quintero playing with real freedom to make things happen. It makes marking them hard, and stopping them harder. Colombia will pose a real threat to England in their Round of 16 clash, and Juan Fernando Quintero will be pulling the strings.
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