Bogota: Colombia is praying that talismanic striker Radamel Falcao can recover from a serious knee injury to lead their return to the World Cup after a 16-year absence.
Monaco forward Falcao was tipped to become a star of the World Cup after scoring nine goals in 13 games in Colombia`s campaign to reach the finals for the first time since 1998.
His exploits included two penalties in a dramatic 3-3 draw with Chile which sealed Los Cafeteros` World Cup berth, when they fought back from 3-0 down to clinch a crucial point.
The surgeon who operated on Falcao, who suffered knee ligament damage in a clumsy tackle by an amateur opponent during a French Cup match in January, said in April that he thought he would make the finals but he would not be 100 percent fit.
If he doesn`t make it at all then coach Jose Pekerman will have to juggle his attacking resources although he is fortunate that Colombia do not have the toughest draw.
They are in Group C against a talented but ageing Ivory Coast, Japan and a goal shy Greece side.
The omens are not good. In the three qualifying games Colombia played without Falcao, Pekerman`s side lost one and drew one before beating an already eliminated Paraguay in the final round of games.
Talented forward Teofilo Gutierrez, now settled at River Plate in Argentina after being forced to leave Racing Club in 2012 for threatening team-mates with a paintball gun, is expected to shoulder the attacking burden in Falcao`s absence.
The 28-year-old could be partnered by either Porto`s Jackson Martinez or Carlos Bacca, who has enjoyed a successful season in Spain with Sevilla.
Pekerman, who coached his native Argentina at the 2006 World Cup and also led the country`s junior sides to three FIFA Youth World Cup wins in 1995, 1997 and 2001, tended to use a 4-3-3 formation in qualifying.
However he may be tempted to switch to a 4-2-3-1 in Falcao`s absence, deploying Monaco`s gifted attacking midfielder James Rodriguez alongside Macnelly Torres behind a lone striker.
Pekerman faces fewer headaches at the other end of his line-up however after a qualifying campaign which saw his team finish with the best defensive record in South America, conceding fewer goals than any other side.
Yet at the same time Pekerman will have noted the way that a rampant Chile side tore his back four apart as they raced into a 3-0 lead last year, where lumbering captain and centre-half Mario Yepes, who turned 38 in January, looked his age.
Yepes, a member of Colombia`s fabled golden generation which won the 2001 Copa America, has confirmed that he plans to retire after the World Cup.
Pekerman could potentially face an awkward decision though if he decides that his captain no longer commands a place in his starting line-up, with AC Milan`s Cristian Zapata the likely replacement.