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Juan Quintero's Renaissance Could See Him Make 2018 World Cup for Colombia

Columbia coach José Pékerman
Columbia coach José Pékerman

When Juan Fernando Quintero came off the bench to score the decisive goal in Colombia’s 2-1 win over Ivory Coast during the group stage of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, it seemed to simply be the most recent milestone in a career that was on a sharp upward trajectory.

Quintero had made his debut for Envigado at 16 and from there moved on to Atletico Nacional and then to Europe with first Pescara, then Porto. After good performances for Colombia at youth level, he was just 21 when he made his way into the World Cup squad. The confident kid who had told his mother, aged seven, that he would someday be the best looked like he was on the right track.

But then his progress ground to a halt. Sporadic minutes at Porto were followed by an unproductive season on loan at Rennes in France. Niggling injuries took their toll. Off the field, he admits that he got mixed up in circles that were detrimental to his development.

Quintero didn’t make a single appearance for Colombia during the qualifying process for Russia 2018 and wasn’t called up at all for going on two and a half years. Indeed, that strike against the Ivory Coast remained his one and only goal for the national team until he came off the bench to convert from the penalty spot in the 3-2 friendly win over France in March.

His recall by coach Jose Pekerman was a reward for his gradual return to form over the last 18 months or so. The renaissance started back in his homeland at Independiente Medellin, where he scored 13 goals and provided seven assists over the course of 2017, and has continued since his January move to River Plate in Argentina.

Reports suggested he was three kilos overweight upon arrival -- “I’m not fat, I just have a bit of a big butt” was his riposte -- but if that was true, it was soon righted. Quintero still struggles to complete 90 minutes but is in better shape than he has been in for quite some time. And over the last month or so in particular, he has really found his rhythm and started to produce decisive interventions.

The 25-year-old had previously been linked with a move to Major League Soccer but has instead benefited from playing in the fast-paced and competitive Argentinian league - one that has often acted as a finishing school for Colombian footballers and is where fellow internationals Frank Fabra, Wilmar Barrios and Edwin Cardona play their football for River’s great rivals Boca Juniors.

His coach Marcelo Gallardo has said that he sees him as a player who is most effective coming off the bench to open up the game against tiring opponents. With his evident technical attributes and ability to combine with teammates and pick out incisive passes, it is a function in which he thrives. His dangerous set-piece deliveries only embellish that skillset.

Pekerman will probably have a similar role in mind for Quintero if he takes him to Russia this summer. It seems he will. Quintero cleared the first hurdle by being named in the 35-man preliminary squad that Colombia announced on Monday, and he then appeared in the rumoured final squad that circulated in the local press on Tuesday.

Four years after opening his international account on the grandest stage of all, the kid who looked to have it all and is now, bit by bit, finding his way once more looks likely to have another chance to display his talent to the world at Russia 2018.

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