Colombian pride shines bright

Alec Dougherty and Veronica Vargo

Football is a matter of life and death, except more important.

This adage by famous Scottish footballer Bill Shankly finds meaning in each country competing in this year’s FIFA World Cup. Through a month-long journey players and fans strive not only to demonstrate the best of their playing and cheering abilities, but also to show how far they have come since the last Cup. Colombia, who qualified for the first time this year since 1998, is one of the teams, which have come a long way to be a part of this World Cup.

Shankly’s quote holds all too true for the Colombian team. In 1994, defender Andres Escobar was murdered shortly after scoring an own goal that proved to be decisive moment in Colombia’s elimination from the World Cup at the group stage that year. The blame for his murder was placed on the drug lords who Escobar had been in gambling debt with. The murder encapsulated the corruption and fear that cartels brought to the once prospering South American nation. The national soccer team performance seemed to echo the political turmoil that was tarnishing the hopes of the country to succeed on the international stage.

It seems as though Colombia’s redemption as a nation parallels its soccer team’s decade of revival. Now, the happiest country in the world according to Global Barometer of Hope and Happiness finds itself atop FIFA power rankings and has battled their way into the quarterfinals round.

“The World Cup is great for Colombians because we get to show off our true patriotism to the world,” 17 year old first generation Colombian American Daniela Gonzalez said. Gonzalez sported a yellow Colombian jersey in celebration of Colombia’s 4-1 win over Japan that sealed their win of Group C and knockout stage berth. “Many people associate us with the stigma of an unstable, corrupt country, but we have come so far to become a safe country.” As the crime rate lowers, the morale of the country skyrockets, especially in wake of the World Cup.

Through all of Colombia’s ups and downs both in politics and on the soccer pitch, Mario Alfanso Escobar, better known as Dr. Mao, has stayed steadfast to his homeland. He has covered his country’s national team as a reporter and analyst the since the 1970s. Dr. Mao’s passion for his country is reflected in his enthusiastic commentary on his team during the World Cup. After Colombia’s heartbreaking loss in second round of the 1990 Cup in Italy, he has noticed a striking change in his team that has allowed them, and the country, to regain pride in their country at the global level.

“We have been happy before with Hernan Dario Gomez Jaramillo (a Colombian player in the World Cups of the 1990s), but we never had the people like we have had today,” Dr. Mao said. “We haven’t been as respected as we are now. Now we have the players that are Colombian–not Mexican, but Colombian. This is how we made it to the next round… We have been really consistent and trusting, because we have players that know how to play, because they have experience in European leagues and more.”14493523026_41927588cc_z

The revival of the Colombian economy along with the reduction of crime and firearms has helped the country regain a favorable reputation in the world in wake of one of its biggest fairs of culture. The homicide rate has dropped 40 percent since 1990s, showing how far the country has traveled since the 1990s.

Gonzalez feels similarly about her country, but her connection is much closer to the heart. “I’m very proud of Colombia for overcoming its struggles with drugs in recent years,” she said. “I feel safe every time I visit there, and I think everyone else should as well. The World Cup will do wonders for the country because people will begin to recognize the revival it has undergone.”

Dr. Mao believes that the new breed of homegrown Colombian players has had a crucial effect on the team’s success so far. He sounded incredibly excited in the hours before their round of sixteen match with Uruguay on June 28, but was humbled by the fact that his country was blessed to qualify for the game.

“Of course, I am really proud because we did not get eliminated easily,” he said. “Before we weren’t really that reliable; now I have trust in my Colombian team. But don’t forget, the second round is when the game really starts, because it is head to head, it’s you or it’s me.”

Colombia’s reemergence on the World Cup stage seems less than coincidental, its resurgence in the world economy and politics considered. Through peaks and valleys, the Colombian citizens like Dr. Mao have never lost their pride and faith in their country. The Cup has merely become a canvas to show their resilience through the dedicated individuals on the team. The citizens of the northern South American nation are not only the happiest in the world, but also the most driven – driven to achieve global redemption through the sacred sport of futbol. In this game of life or death, Colombia has experienced the ultimate rebirth.

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