Rangers striker Alfredo Morelos ready to make his mark for Colombia after being named in Copa America squad

In the month that he celebrates his 25th birthday, Alfredo Morelos has the opportunity to come of age as an international footballer.

Rangers striker Alfredo Morelos in action for Colombia during a World Cup qualifier against Venezuela in Barranquilla last October. (Photo by Gabriel Aponte/Getty Images)

On the back of a triumphant title-winning campaign in Scotland, the Rangers striker has been confirmed in Colombia’s final squad for the Copa America in Brazil.

Having been omitted from the the previous tournament two years ago, Morelos had to sweat on his inclusion this time around amid a chaotic build-up to the event.

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The 2021 competition was due to have been co-hosted by his homeland and Argentina. But South American football’s governing body CONMEBOL removed it from Colombia due to ongoing civil unrest in the country, before Argentina pulled out of staging it because of rising Covid case numbers and another lockdown.

Reinaldo Rueda was appointed head coach of Colombia in January following the departure of Carlos Queiroz after a humiliating 6-1 defeat against Ecuador. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

While all of this was happening, Morelos experienced his own coronavirus setback when he returned a positive test which ruled him out of Colombia’s World Cup qualifiers against Peru and Argentina over the past week.

But having displayed no symptoms during self-isolation and then returning a negative test, Morelos was able to rejoin the Colombian squad ahead of the hastily relocated Copa America which kicks off this weekend.

It’s a chance for the Ibrox fans’ favourite to ignite what has been a slow-burning international career since he made his senior debut for Colombia with a late substitute appearance in a friendly against Venezuela in September 2018.

Morelos now has 10 caps in total for La Tricolor but has only been in the starting line-up four times. He has scored once for Colombia so far, a stoppage time winner in a friendly against Peru in November 2019.

There is a new coach for Morelos to try and impress with 64-year-old Reinaldo Rueda having returned for his third spell in charge of Colombia in January this year. That followed a calamitous start to their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign in which a 6-1 defeat against Ecuador last November - for which Morelos was an unused sub - prompted the end of former Manchester United coach Carlos Queiroz’s tenure.

Rueda has immediately steadied the ship, with an impressive 3-0 win away to Peru last Friday followed by Tuesday’s gutsy 2-2 draw at home to Argentina after trailing 2-0. Those results have revived Colombia’s hopes of making it to next year’s World Cup Finals in Qatar.

That prospect is an additional incentive for Morelos as he looks to establish himself as a regular for his country where his rivals for the attacking positions include Luis Muriel of Atalanta and Porto’s Luis Diaz.

Colombian striking legend Radamel Falcao, viewed as a hero and role model by Morelos, misses the Copa America through injury and at 35 is coming to the end of his career.

The time is ripe for Morelos to show he can be the future for his country. Colombia begin their Copa America group stage campaign against Ecuador on Sunday night (kick-off 1am Monday morning UK time). They then face Venezuela next Thursday, Peru on June 20 (the day before Morelos turns 25) and hosts Brazil on June 23.

The top four in each of the two five-team groups will qualify for the quarter-finals with the final scheduled to take place at the Maracana Stadium in Rio on July 10.

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