Soccer-This Colombia team could be best ever, says Valderrama


RIO DE JANEIRO, June 23 (Reuters) - Colombia's team at the World Cup could be the best in the history of the South American country, eclipsing even the 1990 side, former great Carlos Valderrama said on Monday.

Colombia unexpectedly won their first two Group C games in Brazil to reach the knockout rounds for only the second time and first since 1990.

Valderrama, also famous for his blond afro-style hair, was captain of the team 24 years ago when Colombia lost 2-1 to Cameroon in the second round.

"There are no comparisons between my generation and this Colombia team ... They have a chance to achieve something we never did" by making the quarter-finals, the midfielder told a news conference.

Valderrama also played in the 1994 tournament when Colombia finished bottom of their group.

Colombia's success has been all the more surprising because leading striker Radamel Falcao is missing through injury and Valderrama singled out attacking midfielder James Rodriguez for particular praise.

"When one superstar is gone, another one has to step up. And that is Rodriguez," he said.

Asked why South American teams were having so much success at this tournament, Valderrama pointed to how tough it was for them to make the finals.

"The secret to South America's success at the tournament is preparation. Qualification is very difficult," he said. (Reporting by Ben Walsh, writing by David Ljunggren, editing by Ed Osmond)

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