Can Colombia duplicate World Cup magic in Brazil?

Ray Curren August 1, 2016 15
Lady Andrade and Clombia surprised in Canada, but their Olympic group is daunting (Getty Images)

Lady Andrade and Clombia surprised in Canada, but their Olympic group is daunting (Getty Images)

The summer of 2015 seemed to announce a new arrival on the women’s world stage as in a single World Cup, Colombia stunned France in one of the biggest upsets in women’s soccer history, went toe to toe with England, and were scoreless with eventual champion United States in a knockout match until a red card forced them to their third-string goalkeeper early in the second half.

For women’s soccer diehards paying close attention, the long-awaited rise of a nation in soccer-crazed South America to challenge Brazil’s dominance wasn’t a complete shock. At the 2010 U-20 World Cup, Colombia went to the semifinals (one round farther than the U.S.) featuring many of the same names that were playing for the full team five years later in Canada.

South America women’s soccer being what it is, Colombia qualified for both the World Cup and Olympics way back in September of 2014 when it beat host Ecuador and tied Brazil on its way to a second place finish at the Copa America Femenina.

And slightly under the radar, Colombia followed up last year’s World Cup success by going to the finals of last July’s Pan American games, beating host Canada (albeit not quite a full squad) in the semis before losing to Brazil in the final.

The 2016 Olympics are now the fourth consecutive major tournament Colombia has qualified for (prior to the 2011 World Cup it had zero), so all that experience should lead them to bigger and better things fairly close to home in Brazil, right?

Well, not necessarily.

Unfortunately, while the team has improved greatly, support from its own federation has not exactly been commensurate with their on-field success. To wit, after the Pan American games finished, Colombia went eight months without a competitive match, finally emerging against the reigning, well-oiled champs this April and the result was a little disheartening, if not predictable, a 7-0 beating by the U.S. that could have been worse. With essentially the same lineup, Colombia did a little better four days later, falling 3-0, but never recorded a shot on goal against a somewhat changed U.S. squad. Making things worse were reports that Colombia had not been paid, other than expenses.

{MORE: Sweden looking to improve on World Cup disappointment}

And then? Not much. A couple of friendlies with Venezuela six weeks ago, both of which they won (2-0 and 1-0) and all they have to deal with at the Olympics is a group of France, New Zealand, and the United States. It marks the fourth straight major tournament the U.S. and Colombia will meet. Their last meeting at the Olympics is best known unfortunately for Lady Andrade’s cheap shot on Abby Wambach (the game ended 3-0 for the U.S.), so they will certainly know each other and it’s hard to imagine France taking Colombia lightly after last year’s stunner.

Colombia was dealt more bad news earlier this month when star Yoreli Rincon broke her fibula in training and was ruled out of the Olympics. Andrade started the season with Western New York in the NWSL, but asked for her release when she wasn’t given a regular place in the team by Paul Riley. And it appears that youth pipeline has stalled. After that run in 2010, Colombia has failed to qualify for the last three U-20 World Cups, having been beaten out by Venezuela and Paraguay in the last two.

Reports of Colombia’s demise may be slightly exaggerated, however, as most of the team from last summer does return, minus Rincon and midfielder Daniela Montoya, who scored the first goal at the World Cup, and whose omission is controversial and a bit baffling. But impressive goalkeeper Sandra Sepulveda is back, as are veteran defenders Natalia Gaitan and (American born and former Maryland star) Nataly Arias.

Even without Rincon, Colombia appears to have some firepower that could give even this tough group trouble, led by Andrade, even if she hasn’t played much competitive soccer since last July (she did not feature in the friendlies against the United States). But she is joined by Diana Ospina and Catalina Usme on the front line. Usme was a super sub at the World Cup, but has been Colombia’s most reliable goalscorer of late (20 goals in her international career, most by far on the roster) and seems to be in solid form.

Controlling the midfield and therefore the ball will be extremely difficult for them, but the blueprint for possible success was set last summer in the upset of France and the first half against the U.S. Coach Felipe Taborda has been very successful at getting his team to believe they can compete with the world’s best, but it remains to be seen if Colombia can recapture the swagger that made them one of the great stories out of Canada last summer. If they can, they can beat New Zealand, give the U.S. and France trouble, and advance into the quarterfinals. If they can’t, it will likely be a repeat of their last Olympic appearance four years ago: three straight losses and back to search for more funds from its federation to stay together until the next major tournament comes along.

KEY PLAYER: Catalina Usme – Colombia did not score at the 2011 World Cup or the 2012 Olympics. Usme may be their best hope against a very tough group.

GROUP PROSPECTS: Will likely have to beat New Zealand to be in a position to advance, but probably looking at last place.

  • MurderOnZidanesFloor

    I suspect Colombia won’t replicate their World Cup success. Not playing a game for 8 months was ridiculous, can’t imagine how difficult it is to coach a team that doesn’t even get to play together regularly. They shocked France last time out but I can’t see that happening again, they’ll be completely outmatched by the US and will probably struggle with New Zealand’s size and physicality. I’d guess last place and a flight straight home, maybe they could scrape third but its going to be difficult to even get through as a best third place, given that the other groups are more balanced.

    • Steglitz49

      They will miss Rincon and Montoya.

      NZ ought to be made to play off against a Euro team. NZ qualify even easier than the US does and it seems unfair to good NTs left behind.

      • MurderOnZidanesFloor

        Personally I’m glad NZ are there. As an Englishman I feel they are the obvious team for me to support, an English speaking commonwealth country but not a close WoSo rival of ours like Canada or Australia. If they weren’t there I might have been stuck supporting Sweden with you!

    • HOFCToDi

      Yoreli Rincon will miss the Rio 2016 Olympics with a fractured fibula.

      equalizersoccer.com/2016/07/08/yoreli-rincon-out-rio-olympics-fractured-fibula-colombia-womens-soccer/

      Daniela Montoya was omitted from the Rio 2016 Olympics for speaking out against the federation with regards to receipt, or lack thereof, of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup bonus money.

      resources.fifa.com/mm/document/tournament/competition/02/65/26/11/eng_38_0622_usa-col_fulltime.pdf

      resources.fifa.com/mm/document/tournament/competition/02/65/25/36/eng_38_0622_usa-col_tacticalstartlist.pdf

      • MurderOnZidanesFloor

        I feel Lady Andrade could be a success in the NWSL with the right team. But Paul Riley’s very direct WNYF team was not a good fit for her. Same goes for Jeon Ga-eul who looked decent in the very little I saw of her.

        • HOFCToDi

          Not one NWSL team claimed Lady Andrade off waivers.

          • mockmook

            Not one NWSL team brought Kim Little into the NWSL until Seattle did.

            Not one NWSL team brought Jess Fishlock into the NWSL until Seattle did.

            Not one NWSL team brought Denise O’Sullivan into the NWSL until Houston did.

            Etc.

          • MurderOnZidanesFloor

            They all knew she was going to the Olympics though. She’ll be picked up by a side, maybe NWSL or maybe in Europe, after the Olympics are done.

      • mockmook

        Hey, I’ve got some breaking news:

        Yoreli Rincon will miss the Rio 2016 Olympics with a fractured fibula.

        Go here to read about it:

        http://equalizersoccer.com/2016/08/01/can-colombia-duplicate-world-cup-magic-in-brazil/

        And, don’t miss this insightful comment on that injury:

        http://disq.us/p/1akuybx

    • Ethan

      Well, it would be very unlikely for such an obvious handball not to be called two times in a row, and despite her flaws as a goalkeeper, you’d think Bouhaddi wouldn’t have tried to play the ball like she did on Colombia’s second goal if France hadn’t been trailing at that point. Then again, a draw would have still been an upset, but if France had scored on the penalty that should have been given, who knows what would have happened? In other words, agreed on “can’t see that happening again”.

  • ARED

    I think:

    1) Rincon and Montoya are very big losses -unfortunately Colombia isn’t good or deep enough to really handle this.

    2) Can they “recapture the swagger that made them one of the great stories out of Canada last summer”? I think as nice as it is to have a team like Colombia do well, to be fair we must admit that it was actually based on two things: being physical, and getting some luck.

    Their skill and strong mentality obviously allowed them to capitalize on the chances created, but it was pushing the limits with the referees and receiving a few fortunate calls/breaks that gave them those chances. I think missing Rincon and Montoya will make them rely even more on luck to create opportunities, and will prevent them from taking the ones they do find.

  • STT

    Colombia peaked at WWC15, I think. Being off for so long, missing key players, and being in a much tougher OG16 group will see them almost surely crash.

    Reminds me of the five-year rise-and-fall or Argentina, too – qualifed for WWC03, *won* Sudamerica06, qualified for WWC07, qualified for OG08 – and then we haven’t seen anything from them since.

    • Steglitz49

      Colombia has a population of ca 47m while Argentina has 41m but Argentina has been a major men’s soccer powerhouse since time immemorial while Colombia’s men comme ci comme ca.

      Maybe it is the inconsistency of Colombia’s men’s NT that has allowed their ladies NT to flourish? The other explanation could be that some drug barons fancy WoSo for whatever reason. After all, Russian millionaires seem to keep ladies basket teams and quite a number of US players go there and play for a queen’s ransom.

      • guest

        Does Argentina even have a woso team? Columbia had been producing a lot of good players the team always under perform that’s why Pele doesn’t mention Columbia anymore when ask for prediction in any tournament, already burn once.

      • Rene Higuita

        The Columbia team is much better today compares to the more crazy and talented Pablo Escobar team of the 90’s most of their good players are now coming from football academy like James Rodriguez unlike in the 90’s most of them came from the street or barrio control and finance by drug lords.