Say hello to Colombia, the most entertaining team in the world

Chris Brunskill - Getty Images

With great talent, infectious enthusiasm and playing a thrilling, frantic style that has them near the top of South American qualifying, Colombia has become one of the world's most entertaining teams.

They fly forward with pace, always attacking with an array of talented, creative, bright and engaging players. They move around the pitch in a tizzy, ignorant to caution as they seemingly toss tactics and discipline aside to buzz around with an onslaught of enthusiasm and abandon. They thrill everyone who watches them and always provide the unexpected, just like their tremendous start to World Cup qualifying exceeded the expectations of even their most ardent supporters, who fill stadiums with a mesmerizing cacophony of noise that is the perfect accompaniment to their team.

They are the most entertaining team in the world, and they are not Brazil, Spain, Germany or any other traditional world power. They are Colombia.

Los Cafeteros are second place in South American qualifying, just one point behind leaders Argentina. But Colombia goes well beyond their position in the table.

Colombia is filled with engaging, if sometimes bizarre, personalities, whose moves forward, goals and celebrations feel like an expression of character. Their fans match that, too, blanketing Estadio Metropolitano in the team's signature bright yellow and filling it with song.

Those songs that echo about the stadium are usually aimed at the team's one true superstar, Radamel Falcao. One of the best strikers in the world, Falcao has scored 47 goals for Atletico Madrid since the summer of 2011 and owns the mark for most goals in a European competition after scoring 17 for Porto in the 2010-11 Europa League. A brilliant finisher, capable of scoring from anywhere on the pitch, Falcao is the face of the team and brings the spotlight, as well as the excitement that comes with it, to Colombia.

But while Falcao is the deeply religious and conservative member of the team, his strike partner Teofilo "Teo" Gutierrez is the antithesis. Eccentric at best and crazy at worst, the 27-year-old was sent off for Racing last year for assaulting a referee and then taunted the opposing fans on the way off the pitch, but that was mild for Teo. He has sparked fights and once during an argument with teammates he pulled out an air gun, pointing it at members of his own team. He lied to his club about being called out for international duty so he could go on vacation. Despite all of this, he is still around, a sign of his breathtaking skill and he has matched Falcao with three goals in qualifying already.

The creator for the Colombia's two strikers is the brilliant 21-year-old James Rodriguez. Blessed with great vision and dribbling skills, Rodriguez has been called Colombia's best playmaker since Carlos Valderrama. While he may not have the hair to live up to the title, he is plenty dynamic and fiery, showing for Porto since 2010 the magnetism that has made him a Colombian darling since his professional debut at 17.

The three make up the heart of the Colombian attack, but are hardly alone. Few teams can match the depth of the country's strikers, with Jackson Martinez, Carlos Darwin Quintero and Dorlan Pabon watching from the bench. Fredy Guarin and Macnelly Torres add two more exciting player in the midfield, while Mario Yepes and Juan Camilo Zuniga anchor the back line.

Colombia made their statement to South America and the rest of the world last month with a pair of excellent qualifiers. First, they dismantled Uruguay 4-0 as Falcao ignited the adoring crowd after two minutes and Teo added a pair just after halftime before Zuniga capped a tremendous performance in the 90th minute. Four days later, Chile were the victims as Rodriguez, Falcao and Teo darted around, confounding the Roja defense with a goal apiece to erase a 1-0 deficit and win in Santiago.

That Colombia announced their re-entry to the elite of South American football against Chile was appropriate considering that they are to this World Cup cycle what Chile was to the previous one. Led by Humberto Suazo, Chile were remarkable. They finished second in qualifying, just one point behind Brazil and bested Argentina and Uruguay with Marcelo Bielsa's unique and wild style.

Now Colombia are playing almost as surreal. Falcao and Teo play off each other perfectly, constantly moving and pulling defenders every which way. Rodriguez plays on the wing, cutting in and tormenting defenses with his explosiveness and ingenuity, an almost unfair weapon to unleash on back lines already busy with Falcao and Teo. The midfielders interchange, press and move almost at will and their defense has license to get forward. There are no boundaries for anybody and the movement never stops.

As is the case with nearly everything Colombia does, it is wild, but also tough to expose. The way they fly around, almost without a system or consistency, makes them a hurricane of movement impossible to predict. Spaces that should be free to expose are not and other places are, but Colombia recover before their opposition can take advantage.

Of course, Colombia is hardly perfect but, even when they struggle, their commitment to such exciting play make for must-watch television. The play is just as frantic and the moves just as unexpected. Teams have to step outside of their comfort zone and match Los Cafeteros' zeal, making Colombia's losses as intoxicating as their wins.

It is a breathtaking and adventurous team, put together by Jose Pekerman, who may not be nicknamed "Loco" like Bielsa, but who has his team playing every bit as effectively and electrifying as Chile were four years ago. It is also on the way to qualifying for the country's first World Cup since 1998, which was also the last time Chile qualified for the tournament before Bielsa led them there in 2010.

The second-most populated country in South America, Colombia has been anonymous in world football for more than a decade, failing to qualify for the World Cup in 14 years or impress in Copa America since winning the tournament 11 years ago. When the continent shined at the 2010 World Cup, they were sitting at home after scoring a measly 14 goals in 18 matches en route to a seventh-place finish in qualifying.

It was a long fall for Colombia, who were the talk of the continent in the early 1990s. With Valderrama, Freddy Rincon, Adolfo Valencia, Ivan Valenciano, Faustino Asprilla, Oscar Cordoba, Colombia had what they considered their "Golden Generation." After that squad thrashed Argentina 5-0 in Buenos Aires to finish an undefeated qualifying campaign, Colombia went to the 1994 World Cup as a dark-horse pick by some to win the whole tournament.

Things went awry at the World Cup as talk of death threats sidetracked the team. They were eliminated in the group stage and Andres Escobar was tragically murdered not long after, believed to be retaliation by drug lords who lost money gambling because of his own goal against the United States that sent Colombia on the way out of the tournament.

Colombian football has had a black eye ever since. They qualified for the 1998 World Cup, but fell off soon after. The once proud nation had fallen off the face of the football earth.

Now Colombia is back again and they are not just back in the conversation. Their place in the South American qualifying table makes them relevant, but those who watch them do not remember them for the points they gained.

Colombia are remembered for Falcao's deadly finishing, Teo's antics and dynamism, Rodriguez's creativity, the spontaneity with which they fly around the field, the expression in their celebrations and the the yellow-clad crowd that cherishes their every move.

Colombia are remembered for being the most entertaining team in the world.

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