By Ross Dunbar
Despite being the second most populated country in South America, Colombia has struggled to impose itself on World Football against the likes of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.
The Colombians will be hoping for a similar outcome to the 2001 Copa America which was their only International triumph. This time, they travel to Argentina with a lot of pressure on their backs to improve their poor International history.
History in International Football:
For a variety of circumstances, Colombia did not reach the finals of a FIFA World Cup until 1962 in Chile where they were quickly eliminated at the group stages. They did not qualify for another 28 years and a fresh Colombian squad embarked on a new era at Italia ’90 and managed to reach the Last 16 of the competition.
Hopes were high heading in to USA ’94 but after a group stage elimination, it would result in a tragedy that shook World Football when Andreas Escobar, who scored an own-goal against USA, was killed in the city of Medellin.
Colombia managed to qualify for France ’98 with the talismanic figure of Carlos Valderrama in the side – who would eventually go on to be the most capped player. They have not qualified for a FIFA World Cup since then.
Copa America Record:
Incredibly, the second biggest country in South America have had a fairly dire history in the Copa America until the late ‘80s when things began to turn around for Colombia.
From 1916 to 1959, their best position was fifth place in the competition but they reached the final in 1975, losing out to Peru. Three third-placed finishes between 1987 and 1995, followed by two consecutive Quarter Final finishes set Colombia up for the first tournament ever held in their own country.
The world was watching and despite a late postponement of the competition, the Copa America went ahead amidst political and social unrest. Argentina pulled out of the competition and they were joined by Brazilian Mauro Silva who changed his mind at the last minute.
The Colombian national team finally delivered success for the 45,000,000 population with their first ever Copa America triumph in 2001. Colombia romped to the Quarter Finals, winning all three of their group games, before beating Peru 3-0 in the city of Armenia.
Colombia’s passage to the final was booked with a 2-0 win over Honduras in Manizales. In front of 60,000 fans, they defeated Mexico in the final 1-0 thanks to a goal from Inter Milan defender Ivan Cordoba.
Los Cafeteros had a remarkable competition, winning all of their games, conceding no goals and scoring eleven.
Domestic game in Colombia:
Domestic football in Colombia is blighted by a number of problems, including the influence of drug cartels in football teams. The two most successful clubs in Colombia are Millionarios and America with 13 titles each.
The league is not dominated by just the two most successful clubs and in the last four years, six clubs have won the Primera Division in Colombia – bearing in mind the league follows the Opening/Closing section like other South American countries.
Colombia’s impact on a continental stage has been weak in comparison with other nations in South America with a smaller population. Success in the Copa Libertadores – the South American Champions League – has been rare and only two clubs have won the competition since 1960.
One of the biggest clubs in Colombia, Atletico Nacional, from the city of Medellin, won the Copa Libertadores in 1989. They scraped their way through the Group Stages on goal difference before sneaking past Argentinian side Racing Club and then fellow Colombians Millionarios.
Atletico Nacional’s statement of intent came in the Semi-Finals when they thrashed Uruguyan’s Danubio FC 6-0 in the second-leg to reach the final. In a thrilling clash with Olimpia from Chile, Nacional cancelled out a 2-0 first-leg loss in the second-leg and took the game to penalties where they won 5-4.
The story of Once Caldas in 2004 is a bit of a fairy tale and the little-fancied club from Manizales added to their four Primera League wins with a stunning Copa Libertadores triumph.
Four wins from six games in the Group Stages saw them through to the Second Round where they beat Ecuadorian side Barcelona on penalties. A glamour clash with Brazilian giants Santos was next on the card for Once Caldas and an away goal scored in Brazil proved crucial heading in to the second-leg where the Colombians won 1-0.
Another stunning away performance, this time against Sao Paulo, put Once Caldas in pole position for the second-leg and they won 2-1 against their Brazilian counterparts at home.
The final could not get much harder for little Once Caldas as they were pipped against Argentinian giants Boca Juniors. Given their away results, a positive score in La Bombonera was Once Caldas’ best hope of winning the final, and they held out for a 0-0 draw before beating Boca on penalties.
Colombia travel to Argentina with a number of players playing their football in Europe’s top leagues. Only a handful still play in the Colombian leagues, in particular, Dayro Moreno who has 15 caps and plays for Once Caldas.
David Ospina of Nice will be their likely number one after establishing himself as the club’s main goalkeeper in Ligue 1. Other options include Faryd Mondragan, who has over 50 caps, and Neco Martinez of Once Caldas.
The five main defenders Colombian coach Hernan Gomez could call-up all play in Italy and Spain. Captain Mario Yepes is a regular for AC Milan and has made 77 international appearances and is usually joined by Udinese defender Cristian Zapata. His Udinese team-mate Pablo Armero is another Colombian International who will play left-back, and the final man in the back-four is Atletico Madrid’s Luis Perea who is a regular with the Spanish side.
Hector Gomez prefers a three-man midfield, usually Aguilar, Guarin and another. After an impressive season with Mainz, Elkin Soto could be in-line to be the other man to partner Guarin and Aguilar. Other options include Jhon Valencia, Carlos Sanchez, Juan Cuadrado, Yulian Anchico and Giovanni Moreno.
The two familiar names in Colombia’s attack will be Wigan Athletic hero Hugo Rodallega and Radamel Falcao of FC Porto. Neither have hit the net regularly for the national team but Gomez will likely opt with Falcao in the middle and Rodallega coming from a wider position.
Players to Watch:
Colombia’s main presence up front is FC Porto striker Radamel Falcao who has enjoyed a successful season in Portugual including winning the UEFA Europa League against Braga in May. Falcao was influential in Porto’s domestic success this season and scored close to 40 goals overall this term. The 25-year-old has scored seven goals in 25 international caps.
The star man in midfield is another FC Porto star in Fredy Guarin. It was a Colombian partnership that led to Porto’s winning goal in the UEFA Europa League final with Guarin providing the cross for Falcao’s header. The dynamic 24-year-old has 28 caps for the national team and has spent three years at the Estadio Dragao.
Twitter – @rossdunbar93