Perhaps this is the year Colombia finally earns what it deserves: A deep run in the World Cup.
The Colombians have been teased like few other nations in soccer history. For starters, the country is crazy about the sport. Even in South America, Colombia’s passion is remarkable, and its love for its national team is genuine. Colombia has produced great player after great player and a true golden generation that finally surpassed CONEMBOL bullies Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.
But none of that has materialized into success at the World Cup.
Certainly, the country’s greatest times came in the early 1990s. The Cafeteros were stocked at every level. Andres Escobar was one of the world’s upcoming defenders and Oscar Cordoba a promising goalkeeper. The ever-reliable Carlos Valderrama was a dominant midfielder (and with his blond afro, never mistaken for anybody else.) Adolfo Valencia could finish with anyone in South America.
Behind this side, the Colombians failed to lose a game in qualifying for the ’94 Cup and were a popular pick to win the tournament. Even more meaningful to the country itself, which was crumbling socially and politically, the people looked to the team as a sort of refuge, which perhaps was unfair. As the government battled crime syndicates and guerillas, the people were torn, but everybody seemed to love the national team.
It never happened for that group. They lost their opener to Romania and melted down against an inferior United States squad, with Escobar’s own goal proving to be the deflator. After two games, Colombia was eliminated.
Tragically, Escobar was murdered for the own goal, a sobering sadness for a country that needed no more of it.
After blazing through qualification again during the next cycle, a last chance at revitalization for the Colombians’ key players in ’98 ended with one goal in three games.
This year is the first time Colombia has been back since. With another try at a golden generation – nearly every important Colombian is playing for a first-tier European club – the team is ranked No. 8 in the world. Though in an unpredictable group with Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan, the Colombians have a chance – and the ability – to create the magic run the country wants so desperately.
It would be overdue.
Game Of The Day: England vs. Italy, 6 p.m. How about this for a group opener? No. 9 Italy vs. No. 10 England in what easily could have been a quarterfinal. Instead, it’s for survival. Both teams have Uruguay (seventh) and a solid Costa Rica side yet to go.
For The Novice: Pay close attention to Japanese midfielder/striker Keisuke Honda. He’s one of the more supremely exciting players in the world, and he’ll terrify teams – potentially the Ivory Coast tonight – who let him out of their sights. Lock your eyes on No. 4 for Japan.
Stat of the Day: 64: the number of years since Spain allowed five goals in a World Cup game. The defending world champs were humiliated by the Netherlands, 5-1, their worst loss since the 1950 World Cup, also in Brazil.
Yanks Corner: What role, if any, will Omar Gonzalez play? The defender looked to have a lock on a center back spot during the past year, but he lost his top form due to a knee injury and might have lost his job to Geoff Cameron. Gonzalez isn’t the best passer from the back, and against the pressure the U.S. will face from Germany and Portugal, that’s a problem. Has Jurgen Klinsamann pulled the parachute on Gonzalez already?