Without their talisman, Colombia secured victory over an unfancied Greece side as the group favourites got their World Cup campaign off to a stylish start.
After a 16-year absence, and with Falcao supporting from the stands, the Tricolor could have been forgiven for being consumed by nerves ahead of the Group C clash in Belo Horizonte.
The 3-0 scoreline did flatter Colombia somewhat, with Greece enjoying more possession and almost as many attempts at goal, but most importantly, fears that Falcao would be irreplaceable were alleviated, and the South Americans put themselves in the driving seat for a spot in the last 16.
In the absence of ‘El Tigre’, Falcao’s Monaco teammate James Rodriguez excelled in the number 10 role, but it was the experienced and somewhat enigmatic talents of Teofilo Gutierrez, who is relatively unknown to even the most avid European football fan, that came to the fore.
The River Plate striker proved that even with more famous names waiting for their chance, coach Jose Pekerman is right to stick with the mercurial hitman.
His goalpoacher’s strike early in the second-half came at the perfect time as the Greeks pressed as he announced himself to the watching masses on his World Cup debut.
Falcao’s long-term strike partner was selected by Pekerman to fly solo in Belo Horizonte, choosing to overlook the prolific duo of Jackson Martinez and Carlos Bacca.
Martinez, who has long-been linked with a move to a host of Europe’s top sides, notched an impressive 20 goals in 29 league games despite his club side Porto enduring a frustrating campaign.
Bacca, whose form for Europa League winners Sevilla has led to many touting the 27-year-old as a possible replacement for Diego Costa at Atletico Madrid.
Both of these must have thought they were in with a chance of starting in Saturday’s first match after their fine individual seasons, but Pekerman chose to stick with a man that despite his discrepancies over the years, has always performed for his country.
Thirteen goals from 31 appearances for his country represents an impressive record, especially when you have to take into account Gutierrez has had to play second-fiddle to Falcao for much of his international career.
His temperament has scuppered his chances of a move to Europe on several occasions, with the majority of interested parties being put off by his erratic actions.
He is not to everyone’s liking. Asked once what he does to unwind when away from the pitch Gutierrez proclaimed: “Relax with my family and count how much money there is.”
He also did little to endear himself to Racing teammates after a clash with Independiente, drawing a replica gun in the dressing room after an explosive encounter which saw the Colombian dismissed, and not for the first time, he was on his way out of a club after further ill-discipline.
However, for his country, there have never been such actions, and Pekerman knows that the 29-year-old gives his all every time he dons the yellow jersey with pride.
His emotional celebration exemplified what it means to Gutierrez to represent and get on the scoresheet for his country, and it is that desire what earns ‘Teo’ Pekerman’s acclaim.
The pair have a relationship that exudes mutual respect, with Gutierrez full of praise for the man he calls ‘The Professor’.
“It’s like a big family, things are going well,” Gutierrez said pre-tournament. “I’m a man of faith, and I believe we will have a good World Cup with him. He gave me his confidence.”
Falcao remains the national icon. His nine goals in qualification, one every 121 minutes, were pivotal to the Tricolor returning to football’s showpiece.
But with the multi-faceted Rodriguez providing the creativity just behind, the stage is set for Gutierrez to step out of Falcao’s shadow, and spearhead a successful World Cup return for Colombia, and make the headlines for the right reasons.