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Colombia basking in immediate Queiroz effect

César LOPEZ
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Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz has already made his mark on Colombia after just five matches in charge

Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz has already made his mark on Colombia after just five matches in charge (AFP Photo/Raul ARBOLEDA)

Salvador (Brazil) (AFP) - Colombia laid down a statement of intent in their opening Copa America clash, defeating Lionel Messi's Argentina 2-0 in coach Carlos Queiroz's first competitive match in charge.

The 66-year-old handler has been quick to make his mark on a team that was knocked out of the 2018 World Cup in Russia at the last-16 stage.

The former Real Madrid coach, and assistant to Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, only took over the reins in February after leaving his job as Iran coach having just led the team to the Asian Cup semi-finals.

He was lauded by the Colombian press on Sunday for putting in place "the perfect plan," according to El Tiempo, and ending a winless run against Argentina that had lasted more than 11 years.

Everything was "co-ordinated, functional, as if the most efficient watches weren't Swiss but Portuguese," the newspaper added.

Queiroz himself had been delighted with what he saw, as Colombia defended solidly in a second half dominated by Argentina after being by far the better team in the first period.

Ironically, it was during Argentina's ascendency that Colombia found the key to success, with Roger Martinez opening the scoring on 72 minutes and Duvan Zapata sealing victory three minutes from time.

"We played with great team spirit. We showed a lot of character, which was constant through the match, with great tactical discipline and a lot of commitment," said Queiroz.

"Over the 90 minutes we continued to create chances, including when Argentina were dominating when we regrouped very well and quickly, closing up the channels."

- 'Immovable defence' -

The online version of El Espectador marveled at the "attacking approach" and "immovable" defensive plan put in place by Queiroz, who has now won four of his five matches in charge of the team.

"It's been many years since we've seen such a fluent team against such tough rivals as Argentina," added El Espectador.

Queiroz, who is coaching a fifth national team over four continents, took over from the popular Jose Pekerman after a successful period in which Colombia qualified for both the 2014 and 2018 World Cups.

Queiroz previously coached the United Arab Emirates, South Africa and his homeland on two occasions.

He has impressed his new employers with his football philosophy of running hard, both with and without the ball.

"After more than 36 years of experience I can say that the style I like is the art of winning," he said when presented as Colombia's new coach.

"If that style is rock and roll, we'll do it, and if it's samba, we'll do that.

"Whatever we need to do to play a match with the art of winning, is what we'll do."

He had said that every one of his players would get "a role and a function" in his typically European 4-3-3 system.

Colombia never stopped running, harrying and pressing against Argentina, and never lost their shape or structure either.

Their work ethic was epitomized by midfielder Wilmar Barrios, who worked tirelessly to deny Messi space in Salvador.

The defence shackled Manchester City forward Sergio Aguero while Paris Saint-Germain's Angel Di Maria had almost been forgotten about before his number appeared on the substitutes' board at the start of the second period.

While Colombia played a possession-based game under Pekerman, here it was pressure on the ball that distinguished Queiroz's side.

Even the most creative elements such as Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez distinguished themselves with their high press.

"We managed to always get two or three players around the ball and that helped us to take on a very good team with great players, such as Argentina," said Queiroz.

Next up his team will face tournament guests Qatar, the Asian champions, in Sao Paulo where a victory would guarantee their progress to the knockout rounds.