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Colombia

You all remember Rene Higuita, don't you? That crazy – they didn't name him "El Loco" for nothing – Colombia national football team goalkeeper, the risk taking, "sweeper-keeper", dribble lover and his once in a lifetime-unbelievable-stupid-no way he made it-how the hell did he make it-irresponsible-Ripley's Believe It or Not-reckless-heroic goal-line save from a Jaime Redknapp kick in a friendly against England in - of all places – Wembley Stadium in 2002?

 

Come on, you must have seen it. And then wiped your eyes real real hard, took a deep breath, shook your head in amazement and run for the nearest computer for replays.

Because that was, and in al lot of ways still is, Colombian football.

Colombia first qualified for the World Cup tournament in Chile 1962, but couldn't get its way out of the group stage. It had to wait until the 1990 FIFA World Cup Italy the qualify again, and even advanced to the round of 16 before losing to Cameron. But the seeds of what is yet to come have been planted.

The yellow, red and blue had a team of magnificent players leading up to 1994 FIFA World Cup USA A veteran team, mostly playing for local clubs at home in Colombia. But, oh, boy, could they play. And they have matured so much, there wasn't a team in the world they feared from. Maybe because they knew they could beat anyone.

Not so waiting I the shadows was Pablo Escobar. El Patron, the drug lord of the Medellin cartel, loved football. He built football fields, he played with kids, he owned a football team and he, dare we say it, owned Colombian football. Just years later the stories surfaced about players from the national team sneaking in to Escobar's built prison, "La Cathedral", to play football. There were also stories about bets and of large sums of money that changed hands.

The national team was truly a piece of art. During the qualifying rounds, Colombia beat archrival Argentina 2-1 in Barranquilla. Before the second match in Buenos Aires, one, Diego Armando Maradona, was asked about the Colombians' chances. He laughed. He then raised one hand above his shoulders. "Argentina is here", he said, before lowering his other hand to his knees, "and Colombia his here". Colombia won 5-0. There was no stopping them.

Led by the showmanship of winger Faustino Asprilla, Higuita, attacker Carlos Valderrama and team captain and full back Andres Escobar, the team, and the whole country behind it, had huge hopes coming to the United States.

And then it all came apart.

There were allegedly death threats thrown at Coach Francisco Maturana because of team selection and there was allegedly pressure put on the players by drug lords. Colombia dropped the first match 1-3 to Romania, lost the second 0-2 to the United States and finished the tournament with a 2-0 win over Switzerland. But it wasn't enough

Disaster stroke in the second match, as one of the goals conceived was an own goal by Escobar. Six days later, outside a bar in his home town of Medellin, he was shut to death. The whole country mourned, the whole world was shaken.

It took Colombia a long time to recover. It reached the group stages in 1998 and 2002 and didn't qualify again for the tournament until 2014.

Two days after Colombia marked the 20-year anniversary of Escobar murder, the national team lost to Brazil 1-2 in the quarter-finals of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the highest it has ever reached in the tournaments.

Colombia's all-time caps leader is Valderrama with 111 appearances. It's all time top goal scorer is Radamel Falcao with 28 goals in 70 matches.

Now just a second. You don't really think we'll leave you without another reminder of our buddy Higuita, didn't you? The curly-haired and mustached devil of a goalkeeper had one more miracle up his sleeve – he used to take set pieces kicks too, and scored three goals for the national team.

 

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Colombia tickets - 2017-2018
Event
Date
Price
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