Colombia’s national soccer team will take part in the FIFA World Cup for the sixth time in this year’s edition in Russia, with its opening Group H game against Japan on June 19.
Here are five crucial moments that defined the fortunes of “El Tricolor” through over the course of its tournament history.
1 – USSR 4-4 Colombia – 1962 World Cup
Colombia qualified for its first ever World Cup in 1962 in Chile and hoped to make its mark on the world stage after living in the shadow of South American rivals Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay for decades.
After losing the first group game to Uruguay, “Los Cafeteros” took on reigning European champions the Soviet Union in the second game in what was billed by El Tiempo as “David and Goliath today in Arica.”
The star-studded Soviet outfit went 3-0 up within 11 minutes as the game looked to be living up to its pre-match billing. Colombia’s German Aceros pulled one back in the 22nd minute with the Russians carrying a 3-1 lead into half time.
The Soviets went further ahead in the 57th minute when Victor Ponedelnik extended the lead to 4-1 but what happened next was one of the great World Cup comebacks as Colombia responded with three goals to stun the Russians.
Marcos Coll made World Cup history in the 69th minute when he scored an Olympic goal (directly from a corner) against Lev Yashin, known as the “Black Spider,” who was regarded as the best goalkeeper in the world at the time.
Further strikes from Antonio Rada and Marino Kligner earned a 4-4 draw, really announcing Colombia’s arrival on the world stage.
Colombia’s El Espectador newspaper headlined with “Colombia Experiences Hours of Collective Madness after Triumph in Arica” while British media carried slogans such as “Viva Colombia” in appreciation of the historic dent put in the fortunes of the communist kingpins.
2 – ‘Tino’ Asprilla’s expulsion from the squad- 1998 World Cup
Colombia qualified for a third successive World Cup in 1998, bringing a star-studded squad to France as Hernan “Bolillo” Gomez’s side hoped to banish the memory of a disastrous 1994 campaign.
The South Americans went into the first group game at the Stade de Gerland in Lyon on June 15 hoping to avenge the surprise 3-1 defeat of their last meeting at Italia ’90.
The Romanians however did not read the script, putting the Colombians to the sword in a 1-0 win, Adrian Lile getting the decisive goal for the eastern-Europeans.
Matters became worse for Colombia post-match when star-striker Faustino Asprilla launched a scathing attack on manager Bolillo after the Tulua-born star was substituted in the 84th minute.
The attacker claimed that the boss had “untouchables” in the starting XI, referring to veteran playmaker Carlos Valderrama.
“He disrespected me, there are other players with worse performance than me and he does not take them out,” Asprilla said to reporters.
The comments by the former Newcastle United striker led to his expulsion from the squad with Bolillo refusing to accept such criticism from a player.
“Here we don’t throw anyone out. People leave on their own. Asprilla made some statements that he shouldn’t have and the disciplinary regulations are there for a reason,” said the manager in reference to the expulsion.
Asprilla’s absence was felt by Colombia in the final group game defeat to England, which spelled the end of the tournament for Bolillo’s men and what many regarded as the end of an era for a golden generation of players.
3 – Falcao injury – 2014 World Cup
Colombia’s record goal-scorer Radamel Falcao powered his side to qualification for the 2014 World Cup after a 16-year absence in 2014.
“El Tigre,” who is one of the greatest players ever produced by Colombia scored nine goals in 13 games in the qualifying campaign that saw his side finish second to Argentina in the CONMEBOL South American section of qualifying.
Colombian hopes were high ahead of the competition in Brazil that with the likes of Falcao, James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado among the ranks, the team could compete with the best in the world.
Disaster struck however in January when the Monaco striker was stretchered off with a serious knee injury after shipping a heavy tackle when playing for his club.
The prolific striker had surgery on the anterior cruciate ligament but did not recover in time to take his place in Jose Pekerman’s squad for Brazil.
The veteran coach described it as “the saddest day I’ve had since becoming Colombia coach” when he finalized the squad list for the competition.
While “Los Cafeteros” had their most successful World Cup ever, reaching the quarter-finals, Colombian fans were left wondering what could have been had their talisman not been struck down with injury.
4 – James Rodriguez wonder-strike against Uruguay – 2014 World Cup
For many, Colombia’s qualification for the 2014 World Cup marked a new dawn bringing an end to a drought that had seen the football-crazy nation miss out on three successive tournaments since 1998.
Under Argentine coach Jose Perkerman, Colombia had seen the emergence of a new exciting generation of players that included Monaco-based star James Rodriguez.
Fast forward to the world-famous Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro for a last 16 clash with South American rivals Uruguay on June 28 when James truly announced his and Colombia’s arrival on the world stage.
As Colombia struggled to break down a resolute Uruguayan defense, the former-Envigado man took the ball down on his chest in the 28th minute, swiveled and sent a thunderous volley off the underside of the crossbar and into the net in what was arguably one of the great goals of World Cup history.
In the absence of star striker Radamel Falcao, James took Brazil 2014 by storm scoring six goals on his way to winning the golden boot becoming just the fifth player in World Cup history to score at every game in a finals.
The quality of his strike against Uruguay was later recognized when he collected the 2014 FIFA Puskas award for the best goal of the season.
5 – Andres Escobar own goal – 1994 World Cup
On the December 5, 1993 Colombia took on two-time World Cup winner Argentina in the final game of the CONMEBOL South American section of World Cup qualifying at the Estadio Monumental in Buenos Aires.
In what was one of the greatest performances ever in a World Cup qualifier on the continent, Colombia thrashed the home side 5-0 prompting the 53,000 fans in the stadium to rise to their feet to applaud the display.
The result sent the media in to a frenzy with Brazil legend Pele tipping Colombia to lift the World Cup trophy at USA ’94.
Despite the death of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar in December 1993, the cloud of mafia involvement in Colombian football continued to linger.
In the aftermath of the tournament, stories came out in the media claiming that the team had dined with the Cali Cartel before leaving for the World Cup during which the players were offered cash bonuses for their performance.
Colombia surprisingly lost the opening game to Romania in what was a poor performance by Francisco Maturana’s men and went into the second group match against the hosts USA needing a win.
Disaster struck in the 35th minute when Atletico Nacional defender Andres Escobar deflected the ball into his own net for what would prove to be a fatal own goal.
The Colombians went on to lose the game and were eliminated from the competition despite the riches of talent they boasted in the squad.
Upon his return to his hometown Medellin, Escobar got involved in a verbal altercation while leaving a local nightclub, and was gunned down, succumbing to his injuries later in hospital.
While speculation became rife as to the reason behind the attack, the nation mourned the death of one of its most promising footballing icons.
The tragedy cast a dark cloud across the footballing nation, one which perhaps the national team did not recover from for decades.