Colombia remains an underdog
The Nobel Laureate Gabriel García Márquez was once told that "'In this century, only three important things have happened to Colombia: the political violent outburst of 1948, the publication in 1967 of 100 Years of Solitude, and the 5-0 defeat of Argentina by Colombia's national squad in 1993." Laughing, Márquez replied, "You know what the worst thing about that is? It's true."
The dialogue is reported by the Colombian literary critic Professor Erna Von der Walde of the University of Los Andes, as taking place a few days after the footballer Andres Escobar was murdered. " Political violence, literature and football my appear unconnected, but these three events share underlying commonalities," wrote Von der Walde. "They are all important constituents of Colombia's image abroad."
Many Colombians, sensitive to sensationalist portrayals of their homeland in the international press, object to this reductionist cliché -- but the issue of violence in the country cannot be overlooked. A decade ago, when the country boasted more kidnappings than the rest of the world combined, and the
"Argentina feels exactly like Colombia did 15 years ago" a visiting academic decreed during a seminar in Buenos Aires. It stands to reason that these two countries, the two extremes of continental South America, bookend the game in ways which mirror each other.
About a half century ago the professional game in Argentina was in such dire straits that a strike by the players led to the suspension of the league. A mass exodus of talent took to Colombia, lured by good pay. Managers such as Adolfo Pedernera and players such as Alfredo Di Stefano established a new style of skilled ball control which is to this day regarded as having shaped Colombian soccer.
More recently, the migration has gone in the opposite direction. Colombian players have made a significant contribution to Argentina's clubs, with many idolized by local fans over the years. Oscar E. Córdoba, Ivan Córdoba, Chico Serna, Palomo Uzurriaga, Mario Yepes, Faustino Asprilla, Jorge Bermúde to name but a few.
The impact of Colombian talent outside home turf is not confined to the Americas -- of the current squad, Freddy Guarín and Falçao García have enjoyed superlative success in Porto this season, with the latter already linked by the
While obviously hoping the squad will do well, critics back home are not entirely optimistic. "Anxiety 1 - Colombia 0" wrote the journalist Leonardo Duque in an article lamenting the lack of goals -- in 13 matches, Bolillo Gomez's team have only scored 11. "We don't need you to play pretty,"
Colombia has only won
The heyday of the country's international appeal was in the 90s. A generation of players worked their way into the hearts of fans the world. Valderrama wigs were scattered around the
The current squad is once again under the same leadership duo, with Pacho Maturana acting as an overall manager of squads and Bolillo Gomez more directly managing the team. Having both spent stints working at international level in neighboring Ecuador, [Maturana also had a short-lived attempt at club level in Argentina] they have returned to finish what they set out to do almost a quarter of a century ago.
Like most places where the game awakens passion before reason, the entire cultural spectrum of Colombia's intelligentsia has a viewpoint when it comes to the ball's adventures. The physical perfection of the athlete has been celebrated by mezzo-brow gentleman's magazine
But this game is where art and reality meet. The darker side of soccer has seen
Football exists despite the harsher realities around it, and Colombians will continue to embrace the game. Just days after the Copa América ends the country prepares to host the U-20 World Cup. Regardless of the outcome veterans Maturana and Bolillo return home with, the next generation will be already be lined up for kickoff, rolling the ball into the future.
Goalkeepers: David Ospina (Nice), Luis Martinez (Once Caldas), Breiner Castillo (Independiente Medellin).
Defenders: Mario Yepes (Milan), Aquivaldo Mosquera (America), Luis Amaranto Perea (Atletico Madrid), Cristian Zapata (Udinese), Pablo Armero (Udinese), Camilo Zuniga (Napoli), Yulian Anchico (Pachuca), Juan David Valencia (Junior).
Midfielders: Juan Guillermo Cuadrado (Udinese), Elkin Soto (Mainz), Abel Aguilar (Hercules), Fredy Guardin (Porto), Carlos Sanchez (Valenciennes), Gustavo Bolivar (Tolima).
Forwards: Hugo Rodallega (Wigan), Adrian Ramos (Hertha), Teofilo Gutierrez (Racing), Falcao Garcia (Porto), Jackson Martinez (Jaguares), Dayro Moreno (Once Caldas).