Colombia's World Cup

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South America » Colombia
July 21st 2014
Published: July 21st 2014
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When we decided to take this trip we knew we would be away for the 2014 Fifa World Cup. Being as that was the case we decided that it would be good to be in a country that had a team participating in the competition. There were a few possibilities, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Argentina being some (Brazil wasn’t an option for budget reasons); we didn’t make a decision straight away but as we travelled it seemed more and more likely that we would be in Colombia.

The more I thought about it the more excited I was about the prospect of being in Colombia for the World Cup. Expectations for the Colombian national team were high running up to the tournament; before the competition they were ranked 8th in the world, they had finished second in their qualifying group and boasted two of world footballs most expensive talents in Falcao* and James Rodriguez in their starting line-up.

Hopes of England getting anywhere were narrow at best so to have a second team like Colombia was all the better.

*Falcao pulled out of the squad at the last minute because of injury but as anyone from planet earth will know James Rodriguez happily took the limelight and become one of, if not the star of the tournament.

The World Cup starts: Group stages

Our first destination in Colombia was the capital, Bogota. We arrived about a week before the competition started and already World Cup fever had taken over the city. The streets were littered with national colours that adorned every kind of plastic souvenir you can imagine including bright yellow horns that became our soundtrack for the next 4 weeks. Adverts with pictures of Carlos Valderrama (Colombia’s most capped player) could be seen in many shop windows and street vendors selling World Cup Paninini stickers could be heard shouting ‘Panini!’, ‘Panini!’ almost everywhere.

The opening game was Brazil v Croatia and it seemed no one in Bogota wanted to miss it, shops were closed and those that weren’t had TV screens. Some office workers had even been given the afternoon off. We could tell this World Cup meant a lot to Colombia.

We had to pop out just before the opening match started and were using an ATM when screams came from the adjacent café. Brazil had scored and it was an own goal. The excitement erupted in me, the World Cup had started! Already there was a talking point, the favourites and hosts had started their campaign with an own-goal and I was in a country that seemed even more passionate about football than my own.

Excited by the prospect of an upset so early in the tournament we rushed back to our hotel and watched the rest of the game. Normal service resumed 20 minutes later and Brazil went on to win 3-1, but still, it was an exciting start and there were already plenty of talking points.

Game 1: Colombia vs Greece (14 June)

Colombia’s first game was two days after Brazil’s opening match and was also the same day as England’s opening game against Italy. Colombia began at 11am and England 5pm. The prospect of a day of football spent in the pub made me a happy man.

Unfortunately my day was destined to be cut short because elections were being held on Sunday and the mayor had planned for a citywide alcohol ban from 6pm which meant all bars would have to close. No big night out for us then.

Colombia’s game was very exciting, mostly because of the incredibly enthusiastic fans but also because they defeated Greece 3-0 which at this stage was their biggest ever World Cup result. The fans were partying all day. After the match I went out into the streets to get some pictures; fans were singing and stopping traffic and also indiscriminately launching bags of flour at each other and any other unfortunate passers-by. Apparently this is common practice for Colombian football fans.

At the time it all seemed quite harmless and the fans’ joy was quite infectious. Unfortunately things turned sour as we later learned that 9 people had been killed that night and violence had erupted across the city.

Fans were still in the pub when we arrived for the England game at 5pm and had been drinking since 10am. Perhaps cutting them off at 6pm and sending them home wasn’t the best idea though it is by no means an excuse. England also lost 2-1 to Italy. Maybe this World Cup in Colombia wasn’t going to be so good after all.

Game 2: Colombia vs Ivory Coast (19 June)

By this stage the World Cup was well up and running with Holland beating Spain 5-1 and Germany’s 4-0 win over Portugal being particular highlights. Bogota was still full of excitement and optimism despite the unfortunate events after their first match and it still felt like a good place to be.

Colombia’s participation in the 2014 World Cup is the country’s first for 16 years so it came as no surprise that passions were running high.

It wasn’t just national fans either who were so passionate. The day before Colombia’s second game 15 thousand fans of Bogota’s Millonarios football team descended on the capital’s streets to celebrate their teams 68th birthday. Unfortunately the celebrations weren’t all peaceful and there were several arrests.

Fearing similar problems during the game against Ivory Coast Bogota’s mayor acted swiftly and imposed a 48 hour city-wide alcohol ban and subsequently there was no repeat of the violence that marred their brilliant start to the World Cup.

We watched the Ivory Coast game in the same bar as the Greece game. The lack of alcohol made little difference to the atmosphere, it even felt like the fans singing and celebrations had been turned up a notch. The game itself was more exciting than the first and provided much more of a test for Colombia. James Rodriguez got his second goal in so many games and was starting to look like the World Cup star he was to become. However the highlight of this game for me was Gerviniho’s goal which was preceded by an excellent slalom run past three defenders. I’m sure a few Arsenal fans wished he’d done that when he played for them. The game ended with a 2-1 win for Colombia though I think a draw would have been a fairer result.

Oh and for the record, England lost 2-1 to Uruguay.

Game 3: Japan vs Colombia (24 June)

By the time of Colombia’s final group game, Spain, Australia, Cameroon and England had already been eliminated from the competition, Brazil and Mexico had played out a thrilling 0-0 draw and we had left Bogota for sunnier Cartagena.

…and Colombia were now my official team.

By this stage Los Cafeteros had already qualified for the last 16 stage so the game against Japan carried little weight but that didn’t stop the locals filling the bars. Cartagena
A smile worth a thousand wordsA smile worth a thousand wordsA smile worth a thousand words

I had a feeling that this mans smile was for more than just the football. His country is changing and I think he likes it.
was quite a contrast to Bogota and felt very relaxed. The alcohol ban didn’t apply here either and as far as I know there was no trouble, just lots of parties. The game ended with Colombia winning in emphatic style beating Japan 4-1.

We watched the match in a small bar on Carrera 10 in Caragena’s busy old town. The atmosphere was incredible, so much so that by the time of the final whistle the bar was crammed and people were overflowing onto the street.

Celebrations went on outside for hours with crowds of Colombians and back packers singing and dancing together and at times stopping traffic which prompted a lone policeman to politely ask people to move out of the road. The poor guy had a tough job that day but I think he did it excellently; he kept order well but didn’t stop anyone having fun. Truth is he was probably just as happy as everyone else.

We left Carrera 10 when it started to get dark and moved up to Trinidad square where we spent the night drinking and dancing. Another great night in Colombia.

Round of 16: Colombia v Uruguay (28 June)

Before the World Cup began it did cross my mind that Colombia might face England at this stage and that Colombia mightn’t be the best place to watch the game but as you already know this fear was quickly put to bed as England had packed their bags long before the last 16 draws had been finalised.

Even Italy failed to progress so it was down to Uruguay to stifle Colombia’s hopes and from what I understand this was the fixture most Colombians had hoped for. Apparently they thought Italy or England would have been too much for them. They needn’t have worried.

It also seemed fate was on their side because Uruguay’s star man Luis Suarez had been sent home in shame for biting Georgio Chiellini in the game against Italy. Yep you read that right. Biting.

We watched the game in Tayrona National park where I was initially concerned that the game might not be shown. Stupidity on my part. Even though there are no roads in the park and all supplies come into the reserve on the back of donkeys there is still room for wide screen TV’s and projector screens. This is Colombia.

In the morning I watched the Brazil/Chile game and managed to secure a couple of seats for me and Helen. Fortunate too because by the time of kick off the restaurant bar of our campsite was full with over a hundred fans all clamouring to get a glimpse of the action.

James Rodriguez cemented his reputation in this game with an incredible strike that broke the deadlock. The game was nearly 30 minutes in and you could sense the tension amongst the Colombians, this was not like their earlier games. They were nervous.

Colombia certainly looked the better side but Uruguay were staving off their attacks and matching their pace. For a while it looked like the game could have been anyone’s but then on the 28th minute Colombia pierced the Uruguayan defence. A poor Uruguayan clearance fell to Abel Aguilar who headed the ball into the path of James, in the split second the ball flew through the air you could see James quickly checking his position before controlling the ball with his chest and then volleying it into the top corner. The goal keeper had no chance. Everybody in the beach bar launched into ecstatic cheers, the tension was lessoned and confidence was growing in the crowd. The game ended 2-0 with James scoring the second in the 50th minute. At the final whistle the bar went mental and everyone ran to the beach. Colombia were going to the quarters. Against Brazil.

Quarter final: Brazil v Colombia (4 July)

We watched this game outdoors in Santa Marta’s main square where a huge screen had been erected. The park was packed with children taking up positions in trees and on top of goal posts. Most people were huddled into the one corner that had shade but as the game went on and the sun moved across the sky it seemed like that no matter where you stood there was no escape from the blistering heat and humidity.

Despite the early goal from Brazil and the stop-start nature of the match (nearly 60 fouls were recorded in the game) the Colombians spirits remained high and there was a festival atmosphere in the square throughout most of the game. Unfortunately Team Colombia didn’t really get into the game until the last 20 minutes and although they managed to win and score an eightieth minute penalty it was too late. Brazil won 2-1, Colombia were going home.

This was the first time I’d seen Colombians unhappy, for many they felt hard done by, that the hosts had been favoured and the ref had handled the game badly. For the remainder of the tournament Colombians supported anyone who was playing against Brazil.

A lot of replica Germany shirts were sold over the next week.

Heroes return

The gutting feeling of getting knocked out of the World Cup soon left the Colombians and by the Sunday they were celebrating the return of Los Cafeteros. Bogota’s mayor closed off the main road from the airport and gave the national team a ticker tape parade worthy of victors and for most Colombians that’s what they were. Colombia lit up the tournament with their exciting attacking play and impressive dancing goal celebrations and had made their country proud. They were more than worthy of the greeting they got when they returned home.

The remainder of the tournament was followed by me and everyone else in Colombia with a little less enthusiasm but there were still highlights to come with Germany’s 7-1 semi-final thrashing of Brazil being the most notable. It was a great World Cup and for me made all the better by watching it in Colombia.

Germany went onto be winners of the 2014 world cup beating Argentina 1-0 in the final.

Colombia won the fair play award and James Rodriguez won the Golden boot trophy for his 6 goals.

Final thought

There is no doubt that Colombia’s impressive progress in the 2014 World Cup meant a lot to the people of Colombia but for me their pride was for more than just football.

For most Colombians their lives have been dominated by upheaval and fear. They have lived with fear of terrorists, drug traffickers and even heavy handed police. It’s no secret that for over 30 years and even to this day Colombia has been known as the world’s foremost producer of cocaine so for their country to experience an unprecedented level success and be seen as more than the cocaine factory of the world is just cause for celebration.

Of course the country still has many problems but for many of the young Colombians who enjoyed this year’s World Cup the likes of Pablo Escobar or the assassination of Colombian defender Andres Escobar after the 1994 world cup are relics of history from a time they did not know.

In fact for many Colombians this will have been their first memory of Colombia at the World Cup and what a memory it is.

A positive memory for a positive future.

Footage of James Rodriguez's goal against Uruguay. Worth a look just for the commentators reaction. Enjoy


22nd July 2014

World Cup fever
What an exciting year it was. Wow, you are fortunate to have attended. What an experience. Loved the blog.

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