'Who needs Falcao and Ribery?', say underdogs
03 July 2014, 22:05
Fortaleza - The four underdogs in the World Cup quarter-finals have all made it this far despite pre-tournament injuries to key players that forced their coaches to call up late replacements and tinker with their plans.
Colombia lost playmaker Radamel Falcao to a knee injury in the run-up to the World Cup while France arrived in Brazil without winger Franck Ribery, who withdrew with back pain just before the tournament started.
Belgium's powerful forward Christian Benteke dropped out in April with a ruptured Achilles tendon, while Costa Rica's leading striker Alvaro Saborio suffered a broken foot in May.
Yet all four teams have shaken off these injuries to reach the last eight, where they all face more illustrious opponents.
Colombia coach Jose Pekerman predicted last year that Falcao would be "the best player at the World Cup" but despite his injury the Colombians have hardly noticed the striker's absence.
Their midfielder James Rodriquez has proved more than an adequate goalscorer, netting five times as the Colombians have romped to a quarter-final clash with hosts Brazil.
Ribery's absence forced France coach Didier Deschamps to decide with his starting lineup, pushing Karim Benzema into a slightly wider position on the left where Ribery usually plays.
It has not stopped Benzema scoring three goals and setting up two more to help propel the French into Friday's quarter-final against Germany.
Benzema is reportedly unhappy about playing out wide but when asked about it at a recent news conference Deschamps laughed. "Benzema sulking?," he said. "That is just your impression."
When teenager Divock Origi scored Belgium's winner against Russia in the group stage, coach Marc Wilmots praised him but reminded reporters that "if Benteke were fit, Divock would not be here".
Origi was called up as a late replacement for the injured Benteke and has seized his opportunity, helping Belgium into a last eight clash with Argentina on Saturday.
"No-one knew him when I fielded him but you can see his qualities," Wilmots said. "He has technical skills and is quick. When the opposition defence gets tired you can count on him."
Costa Rica's big absentee is Saborio, their top scorer in the qualifying campaign with eight goals. When he broke his foot on the eve of the finals, coach Jorge Luis Pinto was devastated.
"He's an extraordinary guy," Pinto told a news conference in San Jose before travelling to Brazil. "We'll have to see if we can replace him but it won't be easy."
Yet Costa Rica beat Italy and Uruguay en route to their last eight clash with the Netherlands, their impressive frontman Joel Campbell helping make up for Saborio's absence.
Colombia, France, Belgium and Costa Rica start their matches as underdogs and might not make the semi-finals but if they do lose one thing is clear - it will not be due to the absence of their injured players, all of whom have been admirably replaced.