For Colombians around the world, today’s contest represents a national celebration and collective sense of redemption even before the opening kick-off against the jittery Brazilian powerhouse.
With their best ever World Cup performance, this edition of Colombia’s Los Cafeteros National team has already cleansed the nation of the haunting memories and cruel turn of events of 1994 at the World Cup in the US. And Colombians have seen dramatic economic, national security, and political improvement since those dark days (work still to be done in dealing with the threats of the rebel groups like the FARC).
For those of us that remember that team in ’94, the wild golden afro of superstar midfielder Carlos Valderrama was mesmerizing; and his team was a promising shining light of Colombian image boost in the midst of a period in that country that was dark and lawless in the grip of drug cartel control. The prospects of the team that year to contend as a world champion gave Colombians and soccer fans around the world a chance to see a better side of the country, but the outcome was disastrous and resulted in the murder of star defender Andres Escobar in Medellin after the tournament. Colombia’s global image was in free fall.
SOCCERNOMICS...So 20 years later, Colombia is a country that has transformed for the better economically and politically, and what we’ve witnessed on the pitch in 2014 by “El Maximo Goleador” James Rodriguez and the high tempo offensive attack is nothing short of magic. So it seems like a fitting metaphor for a country who has seen its GDP PER CAPITA grow by over 50% since 2000, far outpacing the growth rates in the US and Canada. Colombia's SE GENERAL INDEX is up almost 15 fold (local currency) during the same time.
The team has also shown a special touch of class when it allowed Goalkeeper Farid Mondragon, at age 43, to enter the match against Japan and become the oldest player ever to take to the pitch at the World Cup.
Mondragon was part of the 1994 team that knew so much heartbreak and tragedy. He represents a soccer program and an entire nation coming full circle.