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Colombia coach Pekerman a man of divided loyalties

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BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil (AP) — Jose Pekerman is a coach whose loyalties are equally divided between Colombia and Argentina.

When the 64-year-old Argentine took charge of Colombia in 2012, many were suspicious of the country’s first foreign coach in more than three decades. But he has since won over Colombians’ hearts, guiding the national team to its first World Cup since 1998.

Pekerman has a long history with Colombia, where he ended his playing career with Independiente Medellin and where his eldest daughter was born.

Before Colombia takes on Greece in their Group C opener Saturday, Pekerman said “I feel very comfortable, very Colombian.”

But he’s probably best known for giving Lionel Messi his international debut in 2005 when he was coach of Argentina. He subsequently led Argentina to the 2006 World Cup quarterfinals.