They are known as Los Cafeteros (the Coffeers) and in a World Cup full of shocking results, the Colombian national team’s beautiful performances are among the best of all storylines. Colombia ran away with Group C, winning all three of its matches, while scoring nine times and conceding a mere two goals. The Colombians have played flowing, creative soccer, led by rising star James Rodriguez, a name undoubtedly being mentioned in the board rooms of the top European club teams.
In a way, this Colombia team is similar to the 1994 edition, a side then hailed by Pele himself as favourites to win the World Cup on US soil. The ’94 Colombians played the most free-flowing football imaginable and they were encouraged to express themselves on the pitch. That tournament, however, ended in heartbreak for the Colombians and subsequently led to one of the darkest times in the country’s history. While stars like Faustino Asprilla and Carlos Valderrama were key parts of the attack-minded team, Andrés Escobar was a key figure and an anchor on defence. The 27-year-old had a horror moment during Colombia’s match against the host United States exactly 20 years ago, on June 22, 1994. He attempted to intercept a pass from American John Harkes and inadvertently redirected the ball into his own net. The USA went on to win 2-1 and Colombia crashed out of the World Cup.
Days later, Escobar was dead. On July 2, 1994, he and some friends went to a nightclub in Medellin. Members of a Colombian drug cartel began mocking Escobar for the infamous own goal and he was shot six times while sitting in his car. This tragic story is documented in the ESPN 30 for 30 film The Two Escobars. Directors Jeff and Michael Zimbalist created an incredibly emotional piece that juxtapositions the clean-cut image of Escobar and his evil namesake, the drug lord Pablo Escobar. Ironically, the film suggests that had the latter Escobar been alive at the time, his ability to keep order (through intimidation and merciless violence) would have prevented such a shooting.
This event was also a death sentence for Colombian soccer. Before he was killed, Andrés penned a newspaper editorial and wrote of the World Cup experience “life doesn’t end here.” They are haunting words. But 20 years later, a new generation of Colombian footballers, playing with the same passion and flair as their predecessors, are helping rewrite the country’s soccer history. What better time to do it than on the 20th anniversary of a great hero’s death.
Football is cruel at times. The US national team, and millions of Americans watching on television, got a taste of the bad when Portugal stole a 2-2 draw at the death, courtesy of Cristiano Ronaldo’s inch-perfect cross. So close the Americans were. A mere 30 seconds was all that they needed to get through but Michael Bradley’s turnover in the middle of the pitch led to Ronaldo’s lone moment of brilliance, a cross that was headed home by Varela past goalkeeper Tim Howard. Where to start? Well, maybe you want to kick the ball out of bounds if you’re an American so that a few more valuable seconds tick off of the clock. Then there’s Bradley’s error. Untimely, to say the least. But even when the hobbled Ronaldo was barreling down the right wing, three US defenders were around Varela yet none close enough to break up the play.
This was already an historic day for US soccer, as 18.2 million viewers tuned in to see if the Yanks could pull one out and advance to the knockout rounds. Now they face the tall task of playing Germany. But maybe this bad result can actually benefit American soccer from a fan perspective in the future. When sub John Brooks headed home the late winner against Ghana, Americans erupted in “U-S-A” chants. They did the same last Sunday when Jermaine Jones and Clint Dempsey scored. It’s easy to cheer on success. But when you’re emotionally invested in a match, the heartbreak is what you remember. It’s like recalling all your bad beats in poker. Americans got a more realistic taste of what being a football fan is like. It’s the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Maybe some will watch a few more matches before the 2018 World Cup comes around.
It sucks to talk about Luis Suárez. It sucks that on the biggest stage in sport, we discuss a man who acts like a child. It sucks seeing all the stupid memes on social media, depicting Suárez as a vampire or Hannibal Lecter. There is really nothing funny at all about this disgrace of a football player, someone swimming in money despite this latest biting incident being his third in the past four years. How does he respond after the match? These things happen, Suárez says. His manager? This is about the World Cup, not morality.
It’s all so ridiculous. If you love football and the World Cup itself, you’re embarrassed. It’s the kind of thing that gives the haters all the ammunition they need to mouth off even more about the beautiful game. Suárez is a troubled person. Literally. (Read this for more: http://espn.go.com/espn/feature/story/_/id/10984370/portrait-serial-winner-luis-suarez-soccer-most-beautiful-player). As of Wednesday afternoon, FIFA had opened disciplinary proceedings. So Suárez’s future hangs in the balance. He can be banned for as a little as a couple matches or up to 24 months. His club team Liverpool and mega suitors like Real Madrid and Barcelona also wait on the decision.
In daycare, kids get kicked out for repeated biting. The same should apply here. Giorgio Chiellini, the Italian bitee, was profound in challenging FIFA to show some courage in any ruling. That’s not something FIFA is known for.
Photo credit: http://www.olimpiazzurra.com