ASUNCION - Colombia, absent from the World Cup finals since 1998, will be the team to watch at the Copa America and in the 2014 South American qualifiers, Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino said on Friday.
"Colombia have a very good group of players and they have also taken on a very good coaching staff. That makes me think things will go very well for Colombia," Martino told Reuters in an interview.
Radamel Falcao and Freddy Guarin shone in Porto's 5-1 rout of Villarreal in Thursday's first leg of their Europa League semi-final but there are more, very good young Colombian players in Europe and Latin America, he said.
Colombia, reunited with 1998 World Cup coach Hernan Dario Gomez, are in Group A with hosts Argentina, Bolivia and guest team Japan in the July 1-24 Copa America.
Paraguay, in Group B with Brazil, Ecuador and Venezuela, face a tough task to follow their performance at last year's World Cup in South Africa, where they reached the last eight for the first time.
"I'm among those who believe the coming qualifiers, which will have added expectancy because Brazil won't be there, will be very tough," Martino said.
"They are always tough but I think this time more so," said the 48-year-old Argentine, whose team finished third in the 2010 qualifiers behind Brazil and Chile and ahead of Argentina and Uruguay.
Martino pointed out that Chile have continued to play well and get good results in friendlies despite a change of coach this year when Claudio Borghi replaced fellow Argentine Marcelo Bielsa.
Experienced Uruguayan coach Sergio Markarian would organise and strengthen underachieving Peru, he added.
Martino was not too happy with Paraguay's performances in recent friendlies on tour in North America.
"The Paraguay (team) I coach don't always play well or can only play well occasionally. However, their commitment in a game has never varied, in defeat or victory," he said.
Martino would like to see his team control the ball more instead of relying on their traditional strengths of defence and heading power.
"Our natural strengths are much more to force rivals into mistakes that we can take advantage from than in developing a passing game," he said.
Martino, who took charge in 2007, would like to work towards Paraguay playing better football.
"That's something that has been hard work trying to achieve these last four years. I think it's always been hard for Paraguay," he said.
"We had a good World Cup and a good qualifying series. Now we need to shake off the hangover, understand that what had to happen happened and that the story starts again."
The South American qualifiers, a marathon nine-team, round robin series, start this October and end two years later.comments