At one point in soccer history, this was unthinkable. The question was how far could Colombia go in the World Cup.
1994 was a watershed year in Colombian soccer history as the team assembled was favoured to go all the way to the semi-finals. On talent alone, Colombia matched Brazil and they were better than Argentina. They defeated Argentina, 2-1 and again humiliated them, 5-0 in a the qualifying rounds. A team that boasted players of the caliber of Carlos Valderrama, Freddi Rincon, Fasutino Asprilla, "El Tren" Valencia, and Leonel Alvarez. Unfortunately, the team came unglued in the tournament as Asprilla walked out in the group phase and defensive errors cost them the matches against Romania and the USA. They won their last match against Switzerland but failed to qualify for the second round. Their disappointing performance was further marred by the tragic death of defender Andres Escobar, gunned down in his hometown of Medellin, soon after the team's return. In 1998, Colombia met their nemesis Romania, losing again. They won against Tunisia but lost to England in their final group match. Once again, they failed to get to the second round. The last two World Cups have been no shows for Colombia as their path has been blocked by Ecuador and Paraguay.
But the new coach of the national team, Jorge Luis Pinto sees a lot of promise in his young players and promises an emphasis on "a dynamic, aggressive and frontal team." He has no doubt that Colombia will make it to the next World Cup. His approach appears to be a break from the "Paco" Maturana days in which Valderama was an integral part of a team used to playing at a settled pace with slow buildups deep in the field and reliant on pinpoint passes. Pinto sees the Colombian team as a mix of older, more experienced players like Mario Yepes, Luis Perea, and Ivan Cordoba, most of them who have played in European leagues and younger talents like Sergio Herrera, Cristian Zapata, Wason Renteria, and Aquivaldo Mosquera.
Pinto's work is cut out as he has to contend with a strong Uruguayan side with Alvaro Recoba (Inter) and Diego Forlan, having a fantastic couple of seasons with Villareal. A very young Chilean squad with deeply talented strikers in Humberto Suazo (Colo Colo) and Alexis Sanchez (Colo Colo) along with more familiar names like Mark Gonzalez (Liverpool) and Luis Jimenez (Lazio). A resurgent Peru whose talented strikers Jefferson Farfan (PSV Eindhoven), Jose Paulo Guerrero (Hamburger SV), and Claudio Pizarro (Bayern Munich) have all impacted their teams in the European leagues in significant ways. Plus, "Nobby" Solano at 32, is still playing and very much integral to the Peru national team as well as the fortunes of the Magpies. Ecuador's experienced core of Ivan Hurtado and Giovanny Espinoza, the best center back combination, with both Tenorios and Luis Valencia up front is still intact. Paraguay's team is a work in progress with many ageing players in their twilight but there is talent in Paraguay's next generation of players, a trio that plays in Europe, Julio Dos Santos (VfL Wolfsburg), Jose Montiel (Udinese), Nelson Valdes (Borussia Dortmund) and a Newell's Old Boys squad that has the sensational Oscar Cardoza, the top scorer for his club in the Argentine league.
The Copa America hosted in Venezuela between June 26th to July 15th will be a preview to Colombia's path to the World Cup and the changes that Jorge Luis Pinto has promised.
Jorge Luis Pinto interview >>