I am always interested in hearing what the rest of the world thinks about Colombian soccer, just to see where we stand. The monthly FIFA rankings, although flawed, are probably the closest thing to a barometer we have. In October we were ranked 33rd in the world and 5th in S. America. After losing to Paraguay and tying Brazil, it looks like we are going drop even lower once the November rankings come out (39th?). But I also like to hear what the experts have to say. Unfortunately, you really can't find much written on our national team outside of the Colombian media, but one "outsider" who does feature Colombia often, and who is VERY well versed on our NT (and South American soccer in general), is Tim Vickery. I know I have promoted his work on here before, but I just read a few of his more recent columns on Colombia and thought it was worth bringing him up again, as it puts our current situation into perspective a bit. Tim writes for a few major media outlets, most notably the BBC (UK), Sports Illustrated (US), World Soccer, and Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) in Australia. Interestingly, Colombia has recently been a popular subject in his columns for each of these outlets. Google his name along with Colombia - I am sure you will find more than a handful of articles. But if you're too lazy, here are some juicy excerpts =) VICKERY ON THE END OF "EL DORADO" "For the Colombian crowds, accustomed to watching some of the world's finest, the end of the so-called El Dorado period was a blow. But the seed of football had been planted - and a few decades later they had another collection of foreign talent to admire." ON THE SECOND "EL DORADO" "The second El Dorado period in the country's football was also the consequence of an export crop designed to give a buzz - but this one was cocaine.....Fueled by drug money, the cities of Cali and Medellin boomed, and one of the things the cartels spent their money on, both as launderers and as fans, was football...America de Cali, the plaything of the Cali cartel, became a Latin American version of Real Madrid, and won the league title five times in a row between 1982 and 86." ON COLOMBIA'S WORLD CUP APPEARANCES AND INTERNATIONAL FAILURE "Under the command of Francisco Maturana they had that terrific side in the late 80s and early 90s - their spectacular and tragic (because of the assassination of defender Andres Escobar) failure in USA 94 has made it easy to forget how good they were....As then-assistant coach Hernan Dario Gomez commented later, Colombia had a team that could beat anyone outside the conditions of a World Cup, but could lose to anyone inside the pressure cooker of the global glare.....Pele had included them among the favourites. They were carrying the hopes of a nation which at the time was tearing itself apart in an orgy of narco-violence. It was all too much for the team to cope with........Their first-round elimination in USA '94 makes it easy to forget just how good that Colombia side really were. Going into the competition they had suffered only one defeat in 34 games - a run which included an extraordinary 5-0 win away to Argentina. It remains the only time Argentina have been beaten at home in World Cup qualification.......Built around the wonderful passing technique and tactical intelligence of midfielder Carlos Valderrama, that side showed promise in Italia 90, collapsed under the strain of USA 94 and were well over the hill by France 98...But the truth is that although they won the Copa America on home ground in 2001, they have so far proved unable to build on the progress made by the 80s/90s generation spearheaded by frizzy-haired midfielder Carlos Valderrama." ON A MATURANA-INSPIRED COACHING GENERATION "But it is Ecuador who have reaped the benefit. The Medellin gang of coaches - Maturana, Gomez and Luis Fernando Suarez - have all played a role in the rise of Colombia’s smaller neighbour. Back at home, meanwhile, Colombia still waits for the great leap forward." ON COLOMBIA'S SHIFT AWAY FROM THE SHORT PASSING DAYS OF "EL PIBE" ...maybe there has been a tactical confusion resulting from a desire to distance themselves from the hypnotic short passing style of the Valderrama days. There has certainly been a lot less joy in the football played by the Colombia team over the last decade....In 2004 Once Caldas, from the provincial city of Manizales, won the Copa Libertadores and were just a penalty away from lifting the Inter-continental crown - playing an ultra-pragmatic blanket defence football, which thankfully has not proved as successful with the national team. Colombia have frequently talked about the need to play a more dynamic style, but more often than not they have been packing the midfield with battlers and trying to grind out results....Former national team coach Hernan Dario Gomez recently complained that "the style of Colombian football has changed a lot, and it's not to my liking. It's a style that looks for tall players, with strength, speed, power and with little talent and ball skills". "Our old style of possession football is criticised heavily here," he said. "People say you have to be more direct, get the ball forward quickly, you shouldn't pass the ball around so much - and because of this the joy and the talent have finished." There is much in what he says, though Colombia are not totally without talent. What seems to be lacking is ideas or identity....."Forget the goal and look for a team-mate. Keep passing and in the end the goal will appear" - it was the way that Colombia played in the days of Valderrama, and it was beautiful and hypnotic to watch." ON PINTO'S FAILURE "Any possibility of Jorge Luis Pinto keeping his job disappeared when he attacked his players a couple of days after the Chile game. Some of them didn’t care, he said. They were bored with the training and the tactical talks. But he had selected them, and it was his job to make them care.If the players are not motivated, then the coach has failed in one of his prime tasks - all the more so in the case of a national team, where the coach can choose whoever he wants. Pinto’s comments were nothing less than an admission of failure. They merely confirmed the rumours that he had lost the respect of the dressing room, and the Colombian FA moved quickly to end his reign." ON COLOMBIA'S RECENT YOUTH LEVEL SUCCESS AND THE CROP'S FUTURE "In recent times Colombia have produced some good Under-20 sides; they came third in the 2003 World Youth Cup, and were South American champions two years later. But the success of youth football is not counted in trophies, but in the number of players who go on to star at senior level....A fair few graduates from the 2003 and 2005 sides have indeed played for the full Colombia team. Yet not enough have made an impact big enough to move from the category of ‘promise’ to ‘reality.’ For two games at least, this becomes the problem of the man who groomed them. Eduardo Lara, Colombia’s youth specialist, has been appointed to replace Pinto as senior coach for the coming World Cup qualifiers at home to Paraguay and away to Brazil, leader and second place in the table respectively.....They put resources into their youth sides. In 2003 they came third in the World Youth Cup. Two years later they were South American Under-20 champions. Many of these players have since graduated to the senior side. But very few of them have fulfilled their promise. Some have suffered the consequences of a premature move to Europe. Others have found it hard to deal with wealth and fame....There is the thoroughbred Radamel Falcao García of Argentine powerhouse River Plate, who has emerged over the past 18 months and looks set for global stardom. There is the strong, rangy Wason Rentería, impressive in both last month's matches. There is '05 hero Hugo Rodallega, a nippy, wiry attacker. And there is Dayro Moreno who, nowadays, is a taker of chances as well as someone who sets them up from the wing.." ON COLOMBIA'S CURRENT GOAL DROUGHT AND THE QUAILIFIERS TOP SCORER BOTERO OF BOLIVIA "At the halfway stage in South America's World Cup qualifiers the top scorer is Joaquin Botero of Bolivia...the first man on the continent to score five goals in the current campaign....This last achievement is all the more remarkable given that Botero was not even selected for the first few matches. But in three starts plus 25 minutes off the bench he has one more goal to his name than the entire Colombia team have managed in nine games" ON THE IMPROVEMENT OF COLOMBIA'S PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION "I'm writing this from the Colombian capital, where I've just come back from watching local heroes Millonarios cruise to a 3-0 victory over Deportivo Pereira.....It's almost seven years since I last went to a game in this city, the final of the 2001 Copa América when Colombia beat Mexico by a goal. That was a huge party, but this time I see that Bogotá now has something else to celebrate: an improvement in public transportation.....It consists of a system of elongated buses with special lanes, called the Transmilenio, and it includes a station right outside the El Campín stadium. The system got me from the city center to the ground quickly -- and to my surprise, was just as swift on the way back......Crowds tend to arrive at the stadium at staggered times before kickoff, and then leave all at once after the final whistle -- I had thought the Transmilenio would be unable to cope with the flow at the end of the game. But the organization was good, and I made it out quickly....This kind of system has proved successful in Curitiba, a relatively small Brazilian city, but a place as big as Bogotá needs a subway. A Transmilenio bus can carry a couple hundred passengers. A subway train can take more than 1,000.....My next stop on this little tour of Colombia will be Medellín, very proud to be the only city in the country that can boast a subway system -- with a station handy for the Atanasio Girardot stadium......Then comes Cali, where one of the city's big teams are about to make history. Deportivo Cali will soon open its own stadium -- incredibly enough, the first privately owned soccer ground in Colombia, where the stadiums are usually owned by the local authority. This will be a proud moment for a club that has a reputation for sound administration and, in the long-term at least, it should give it a financial boost......But first it will have to fill its new home -- which, of course, means people will have to be able to get there. The stadium is located way out of town. I have been to Cali a few times in recent years, and from what I recall its public transportation is far from adequate. After the initial euphoria wears off, making the trip out to the new stadium might try the patience of some of the club's supporters." ON CURRENT CHAMPIONS CHICO AND THE SUCCESS OF TINY CLUBS "Colombia has a new first-time champion, Boyacá Chicó. But has the tiny club from the mountain town of Tunja broken the mold, or is it part of a recurring pattern?....Chicó's opponent in the final was América of Cali. It was a final that few would have predicted. América is one of the heavyweights of the Colombian game, with 12 national titles to its name. In the 1980s, it was practically a Latin American Real Madrid, signing big-name players from all over the region. The club was bankrolled by the Cali cocaine cartel, which had turned it into their plaything.....Nowadays, América is paying for such links. The club is on the so-called "Clinton List," a register kept by the U.S. authorities of tainted institutions that are allowed no contact with the American financial system. América can't even have a bank account in its own country. Forced to put its faith in youth, it reached the final with a dynamic and occasionally unstable side......Founded in 2002, Chicó was first based in Colombia's capital, Bogotá. Lack of support forced the club to look for a more welcoming home, and it climbed higher up the Andes to Tunja, the capital of Boyacá department. Presided by former top player Eduardo Pimentel, what is new about Chicó is that it is the first Colombian club to be organized as a sociedad anonima -- a business where, as Pimentel stresses, "Everyone can come and invest. We're the most democratic club in the country. We're pioneering a new scheme in Colombian football. Our objective is in five or 10 years to have between 25,000 and 30,000 supporters who are partners in the club, carried out with an ambitious marketing plan......But is it the start of a new era? Or is Boyacá Chicó merely the latest in a line of small clubs to get five minutes in the sun?.....With the quantity of drug money in Colombian soccer greatly reduced, the clubs are poorer than they were, promising players are swiftly lured overseas and the overall level of the domestic game has fallen. And as has been seen all over South America, a leveling-down of standards gives the smaller clubs much more chance to shine......Colombia stages two separate championships a year. Three of the last six tournaments have produced first-time winners: Deportivo Pasto, Cúcuta and now Boyacá Chicó. The other three all featured first time finalists: Cartagena, Huila and La Equidad......It doesn't always prove easy for these little clubs to consolidate their success. Real Cartagena, for example, was runner-up in the second championship of '05 and has already slipped back to the second division. Will this be the fate of Boyacá Chicó?" ON COLOMBIA & URUGUAY VYING FOR THE FINAL WORLD CUP SLOT (again) "But come next October, when the competition reaches an end and the World Cup places are allocated, it could turn out this weekend's most significant fixture is the meeting in Bogotá between Colombia and Uruguay. In both previous qualification campaigns, there was a duel to the wire between these two countries for the last available place. In 2002 and '06 qualifying, the same four teams topped the table and bagged the automatic slots: Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay. Fifth place, which gave the team the chance of a two-legged playoff against a team from Oceania, came down to Colombia and Uruguay. Both times it went to the latter by the narrowest of margins. In the '02 series, the rivals finished with exactly the same record: seven wins, six draws and five defeats. Uruguay came out on top on goal difference by a solitary goal: plus-six, while Colombia was plus-five. Had the Colombians scored one more goal, the place would have been theirs -- they had scored more than the Uruguayans. It so nearly came. Right at the end of their last match, at Paraguay, a Colombian counterattack gave Tino Asprilla a terrific chance to score. His shot went just wide and Uruguay went to the playoff while Colombia watched on TV. Last time around, Colombia had a much superior goal difference, plus-eight against Uruguay's minus-five. The trouble that time was that Uruguay had one more point, with six wins, seven draws and five losses, while the Colombians had six of everything -- and were left sick of everything as well. Once more they had a wonderful opportunity to put their fate in their own hands. In the penultimate game, at home to Chile, Colombia was held to a surprising 1-1 draw. Near the final whistle, Juan Pablo Ángel had a clear run on goal. But his shot also went wide and Uruguay went to the playoff once more...... There has been a reshuffle, and the team from South America will now play off against opposition from CONCACAF -- and it isn't unthinkable that once again the battle to get there will be between Colombia and Uruguay. "ON COLOMBIAN SOCCER TODAY "Fourteen years on from the demise of Andres Escobar, Colombian society is much cleaner - and one of the consequences is that football is much poorer.....Recent years have seen a succession of tiny teams reach the final of the Colombian championship - a surefire signal of a general levelling down in standards, as the big clubs are unable to hold on to their top players...I keep waiting for Colombia to come good, but time after time they disappoint. Not since 1998 have they made it to the World Cup. They should be doing better....Outside Brazil they have the largest population in South America, they can count on a football crazy public and plenty of urban centres with well established teams. They are potentially the continent’s third major power, the one country outside Brazil and Argentina for which it is possible to imagine winning the World Cup one day."