(Reuters) - With Radamel Falcao battling to regain fitness, Colombia need Teofilo Gutierrez to show the sparkling form he displayed in the qualifiers and shun an impetuous streak that led him to walk out on teams in Turkey, Argentina and Mexico.
Gutierrez, who once pointed a realistic-looking toy gun at angry Racing Club team mates in the dressing room after being sent off, was a perfect foil to Falcao, scoring six goals as Colombia finished second in the South American qualifying group.
Gutierrez, who is gradually finding his scoring touch with River Plate in Argentina, will be under extra pressure if Falcao does not recover from surgery in time, even if there are able reserves in Jackson Martinez and Carlos Bacca.
Falcao is the man his country was banking on for success in their first finals since 1998 and he had struck up a good partnership with “Teo” under Argentine coach Jose Pekerman.
“I hope God allows me to enjoy the World Cup,” Gutierrez said in a recent interview.
“Radamel has to recover, but with him we hope to be able to be the surprise team. We also have a coach like Pekerman who knows a lot and with whom I enjoy playing football.”
Perhaps Gutierrez’s bad behavior can be blamed on homesickness as he appears far more settled when back in his home town of Barranquilla on Colombia’s northern Caribbean coast, where his first club Atletico Junior and Colombia play their home matches.
The 29-year-old first left the warmth of Barranquilla for Trabzonspor in 2010. But after a year in which he struggled to settle in Turkey, Gutierrez went home without permission and the club decided to accept an offer from Argentina’s Racing.
He was an instant hit with Racing’s fans but differences with team mates, culminating in the paintball gun incident in April 2012 after the team lost the Avellaneda derby 4-1 to arch-rivals Independiente, marked another departure.
Argentine first division rivals Lanus took him on mainly for their Libertadores Cup campaign but it was a short-lived relationship and Gutierrez went back to Atletico Junior before joining Cruz Azul in Mexico in 2012.
When Gutierrez heard last year that River coach Ramon Diaz was keen to have him in his team, which he saw as a dream move, he engineered what became a protracted and unpopular escape from Mexico to return to Argentina.
River fans delight at his ball skills but have been frustrated by a poor goal return. However, the beauty he volleyed into the roof of the net in a recent win at the Monumental was vintage Gutierrez.
That is what Colombia fans dream of seeing from him in Brazil as Gutierrez looks to add to his 11 international goals, starting with the group matches against Greece, Ivory Coast and Asian champions Japan.
Editing by John O'Brien