Colombia qualified for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil on Friday after sensationally coming back from 3-0 down to draw.
The 3-3 draw meant that Colombia now have 27 points and are guaranteed a place amongst the first four teams of the South American classifiers, all of whom classify automatically for Brazil 2014. Colombia had already guaranteed the fifth spot, but had they finished there they would have had to play a play-off match against an Asian team.
The World Cup ticket, their first since 1998, was achieved with blood, sweat and tears after an almost manic-depressive 90 minutes of soccer.
The “Cafeteros” started off weakly and soon collapsed in what amounted to a 30-minute soccer lesson by Chile.
Following a foul by goalie David Ospina in the 17th minute of the game, Chilean midfielder and Juventus star Arturo Vidal scored the penalty. Just four minutes after the first, live-wire striker Alexis Sanchez took advantage of some lethargic defending and tapped in from a couple of yards out after a poorly defended corner.
The Chileans struck again in the 30th minute when Sanchez curved the ball around a defender and into the far corner. Colombia looked finished, a shadow of the team who had beaten Chile 3-1 in the return fixture away from from home, and had beaten a strong Ecuador side just a month earlier.
But Colombia came out strongly in the second half, pressuring and harrying the Chilean midfield, and putting together some passes for the first time in the match. The Cafeteros were now playing in Chile’s half, zipping the ball around the box and forcing Chile’s defense into some desperate rearguard action.
Eventually the breakthrough came with striker Teofilo Gutierrez steering the ball in through a crowd of bodies in the 66th minute to make it 3-1.
As the fans in the stadium found their voice Colombia continued to press, sensing the possibility of a sensational comeback.
Six minutes later came the turning point of the match. A red card for Chile and a penalty for Falcao, which ‘El Tigre’ duly dispatched, sending the keeper the wrong way.
The Cafeteros poured forward, confident that they could snatch the most unlikely of draws, and in the 80th minute the pressure told after Jaime Rodriguez forced another penalty, scythed down as he burst into the box.
As the news came through that Ecuador had beaten Uruguay, meaning that Colombia could not lose their top-four spot (even if they contrived to lose the game), Colombia stepped off the gas and spent the remaining minutes passing the ball around the defense, each pass accompanied by a nationwide roar of delight.
At the final whistle the players jumped and danced and shouted with joy. None of the players have played in the finals of the World Cup, and now they will be there in Brazil with a real chance of winning – Colombia are ranked as the fifth best team in the world.
In the cities fireworks were exploding until the early hours of the morning, with salsa dancing in the streets and car horns honking, celebrating Colombia’s return to the biggest stage. Finally they could forget the old golden generation of Tino Asprilla and Carlos Valderrama and look forward to the dawning of a new golden age for Colombia.
Brazil 2014, prepare yourself – the Colombians are coming.