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BOGOTA: Argentine Jose Pekerman stepped down as Colombia coach less than two months after leading the side into the knock-out stages of the World Cup in Russia, the Colombian Football Federation (FCF) said on Tuesday.

“After a meeting with Jose Nestor Pekerman, the coach has expressed his desire not to continue as the head of the national side,” the FCF said in a short statement. “We at the FCF are proud to have counted on the coach, who qualified us for the World Cups in Brazil in 2014 and Russia in 2018.”

The 69-year-old had been in the job since 2012 and led Colombia to successive World Cup finals appearances.

A Yerry Mina goal deep into stoppage time gave Colombia a 1-1 draw with England in the last 16 in Russia but the South Americans were then knocked out on penalties.

Colombian Football Federation president Ramon Jesurun praised Pekerman’s “highly successful” spell in charge.

He denied press reports there had been a falling out over pay, saying Pekerman had quit for “strictly personal reasons”.

Pekerman’s contract ended on August 31 and local press were speculating that an extension was being hampered by an inability to agree economic terms, as well as a federation demand that the coach’s agent be kept away from the national team.

In a press conference, Pekerman criticised the media for “causing a lot of harm to the national team”, with such rumours.

“You don’t get elsewhere the amount of lies and drivel that has been said here,” he added, insisting he hasn’t had offers from other clubs or countries.

“My Colombian daughter must be sad, but I leave with happiness for having people’s support and I always want the best for the team in the future. There were no disagreements.

“I said it when I arrived, we need to work together, support the national team to achieve great things. There is a hard path that has been walked and we need to keep up the great work.”

Pekerman ends his reign with a record of 42 wins, 20 draws and 16 defeats in 78 matches.

The 69-year old could now be a candidate for the vacant jobs with Mexico or Argentina, the country where he was born and whose Under-20 side he took to the World Cup three times — 1995, 1997 and 2001.

Pekerman also led his homeland at the World Cup in Germany, where the hosts knocked them out in the quarter-finals on penalties.

Under Pekerman, Colombia achieved their best-ever World Cup finish, reaching the quarter-finals in Brazil four years ago, where they lost to the hosts. They also made the last eight of the 2015 Copa America, while finishing third a year later in the centenary edition.

Veteran Dutchman Guus Hiddink, the former Netherlands, Real Madrid and Chelsea coach, has been muted as a possible replacement, along with Iran’s Portuguese boss Carlos Queiroz and Croatia’s Zlatko Dalic, who guided his country to the World Cup final in July.

Arturo Reyes was appointed as interim coach for friendlies on Friday against Venezuela then on Tuesday against Argentina. Both games are in the United States.

Published in Dawn, September 6th, 2018