Radamel Falcao was understandably excited after converting the penalty that would send Colombia to the World Cup. (Ricardo Mazalan/AP)
After one of the wildest, most unpredictable matches anywhere in the world on a day full of high-pressure World Cup qualifiers, Colombia has punched their ticket to Brazil with a 3-3 draw against Chile. The appearance will be Colombia's first at the World Cup since 1998 -- a generation and then some in soccer terms.
The match's host city of Barranquilla was all set up to party in the lead-in, as the capital of Colombian soccer packed the Estadio Roberto Meléndez to the rafters with fans clad in gold, easily sounding like twice the stadium's 50,000-person capacity.
The game's first stanza put a definite damper on that party. Chile opened up a shocking 3-0 lead within the first 30 minutes of the match, with the first goal coming via an Arturo Vidal penalty kick after Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina took down Eduardo Vargas in the box.
The Colombians were rattled, and it showed with their defending on the following two goals, both opportunistic finishes by Barcelona's Alexis Sanchez.
The once-raucous crowd descended into a murmur. Would this be a disastrous loss? No, not quite -- Colombia was guaranteed at least a place in the playoff round for a spot in the World Cup. But, of course, getting in early would be better. Especially when you're playing at home, and your next and final qualifier is away at Paraguay.
Colombia came out for the second half with that fact in mind, showing far more aggressiveness toward goal and increased composure on the defensive end. The turning point came in the 65th minute via two silly fouls by Chilean midfielder Carlos Carmona -- the first for a hard foul, the second just a minute later for an intentional handball just on the edge of the box. Each of those fouls brought Carmona a yellow card, and just like that Chile was down to 10 men for the remainder of the match.
From then on, Colombia had as much momentum as you're ver likely to see from a team down 3-0, and it paid dividends in the 69th minute as Teófilo Gutiérrez capitalized on the Chliean backline's inability to clear and put Colombia on the scoresheet.
After that, Chile simply self-destructed. Francisco Silva gave Colombia a penalty kick with a bad sliding challenge on James Rodriguez, which Radamel Falcao easily converted in the 75th minute. Again, Barranquilla had found its life. The fans were roaring, and Colombian players swarmed forward to get the tying goal.
That goal would gone in the 84th minute, and once again Rodriguez would be the one to cause Chile headaches. The speedster's run into the Chilean penalty area caused goalkeeper Claudio Bravo to panic, and his sliding attempt to gather the ball instead took Rodriguez off his feet. Falcao netted the game's third penalty kick, firing Colombia on to the world's biggest stage and sending the stadium into raptures.
Elsewhere in CONMEBOL, a goal from Jefferson Montero gave Ecuador a 1-0 victory over Uruguay in Quito, while Venezuela and Paraguay traded goals in a 1-1 draw in San Cristóbal. The result eliminates Venezuela from World Cup contention.
The region's final matchday on Tuesday will serve to determine which countries will qualify automatically and which one will be forced into a playoff against Jordan, Asia's fifth-place qualifier. Ecuador and Chile each sit on 25 points, ahead of Uruguay at 22. Because Ecuador and Chile play each other on Tuesday, a draw effectively dooms Uruguay to a trip to Asia. All the Uruguayans can do is hope to get three points against an already-qualified Argentina, and then wish for the best.