BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Jose Pekerman didn’t have many friends or supporters in Colombia when he accepted the job as national coach in 2012.
The people criticized the Argentine veteran for pretty much everything, from his age and his low tone of voice to his squad selection and his substitutions during matches.
The domestic media didn’t get behind him, saying he didn’t talk to reporters and closed practice sessions, and questioned his scheduling decisions for the team. Many couldn’t understand why he needed so many assistants.
Everything seemed to be going against Pekerman, until he had a chance to show them what he can achieve as a coach.
After a remarkable campaign in South American qualifying, Colombia secured a World Cup spot for the first time in 16 years.
“We are going to Brazil optimistic that we can have a great World Cup,” the 64-year-old Pekerman said. “We are definitely going to be a very competitive team.”
Pekerman was hired in part because of his success in his native Argentina, where he guided teams to under-20 world titles in 1995, 1997 and 2001 and then guided the senior squad to the 2006 World Cup quarterfinals, where it lost to host Germany in a penalty shootout.
He replaced Leonel Alvarez, who secured only four points in Colombia’s first three matches in World Cup qualifying, in January 2012.
Pekerman helped the team win eight of the next 13 matches and finish second in the nine-team group, only two points behind Argentina.
Among the highlights of the campaign was a 4-0 rout of Uruguay, a 3-1 win at Chile and a 0-0 draw against Argentina in Buenos Aires.
“Colombia has improved a lot and it continues to improve,” Pekerman said. “I have an excellent group and a fantastic staff, we are truly a team.”
The relatively pain-free run to the World Cup came as a pleasant surprise to Colombian fans, considering the nation hadn’t figured in football’s marquee event since 1998.
With Pekerman, Colombia is touted as one of the teams that could have a surprising run in Brazil, particularly if striker Radamel Falcao can recover from a left-knee injury that has put his participation in doubt.