CUIABA, Brazil (AP) — After 12 days of competition, Colombia has already achieved more than it could ever have imagined at the World Cup in Brazil.
They've reached the second round with a game to spare, won two matches at the tournament for the first time, and played with a vigor that has made the team one of the most exciting to watch in Brazil.
The Colombians can even lay claim to having possibly the loudest and most colorful supporters in the World Cup.
The biggest compliment that can be given to Jose Pekerman's side, however, is that Colombia fans — after nearly five months of mourning — have finally gotten over the absence of injured star striker Radamel Falcao.
Falcao was set to be one of the poster boys of the tournament, only to seriously injure his knee in a French Cup match in January while playing for Monaco. Such was the concern in Colombia that the country's president, Juan Manuel Santos, checked in to see the striker after his operation, but Falcao didn't recover in time.
Cue panic among "Los Cafeteros," but the fears have proven to be misplaced.
"Something really important has taken place," Pekerman said Monday through a translator. "I think everyone who knows football knows Falcao. For Colombia, he has been very important, he is one of the reasons we are playing in this World Cup.
"But the players have reacted in a positive way. For me, as a coach, this proves that my players have a strong character because they have played very well and shown wonderful performances."
Falcao is the name most prominent on the back of Colombia fans' replica shirts. They roar when his face comes up in pre-match announcements on the giant screens in the stadiums in Brazil.
He is still a big deal, but with Falcao absent — on the pitch, at least, as he is still hanging around the squad in Brazil — others have stepped up. Notably James Rodriguez, the playmaker who has scored two goals and been the focal point of Colombia's attacks in the 3-0 win over Greece and 2-1 victory over Ivory Coast that have secured the team a last-16 berth already.