The stands of the Arena Pantanal sounded like the streets of Bogota as Colombia lead a rumba towards the Round of 16, but the joy was punctuated by an outpouring of national pride as 20-year-old record was smashed.
Normally when an uninjured goalkeeper is substituted, you would find a team at its lowest ebb. However, when David Ospina’s number came up with the score at 3-1 against Japan, it was a moment of unadulterated celebration as Faryd Mondragon came on to become the oldest player to compete at a FIFA World Cup™.
Reaching the knockout stages equals a best-ever performance for the boys in yellow that stretches back two decades, and Mondragon’s achievement eclipses Roger Milla’s milestone set at USA 1994. It was a heart-warming moment as he entered the field for the final five minutes, embracing Los Cafeteros’ current No1 as he took to the field in the colours of his country for what is likely to be the final time.
Now aged 43 years and three days, he was amongst the likes of Carlos Valderrama and Fredy Rincon during his first World Cup, as part of the nation’s first side to escape the group stages. Four years later at France 1998 left the field in tears when England denied him the chance of repeating that feat. Sixteen years later it was a different story, as he beamed with pride, lapping up the applause, with his team finally matching that achievement.
Seemingly wanting to thank everyone, from team-mates and staff to the match officials, the broad grin that had been across his face ever since making a last-second save to ensure it remained 4-1 had not left his face by the team he stepped in front of the FIFA cameras. “It’s an honour for me to be here,” new record-holder enthused. “In claiming this record I’m a person who embodies Colombian football and Colombian football history.”
There was always a sense that this could be the night when the ever-present ‘keeper made his historic bow, once Colombia had sealed progression into the knockout stages against Cote d’Ivoire. With two half-time substitutions taking place, there was a chance that a twist of fate – through injury or dismissal – could not see their final switch needed elsewhere, cruelly robbing him of his date with destiny.
Back in World Cup ’94, 95 per cent of us used to play in Colombia, and the other five per cent were playing abroad, now it’s the opposite.
Faryd Mondragon compares the squad from his first FIFA World Cup in 1994 with today’s team
But as he stepped up to the touchline and his number was raised on the fourth official’s board, the crowd erupted. “It was unbelievable, I think everyone was waiting for this moment,” he said, recalling the emotion of his five minutes in the spotlight. “Thanks to Jose Pekerman and the rest of the team, my friends, this dream was able to come true for me.”
As a figure in the team, one populated by a myriad of stars young enough to be his own children, Mondragon provides a point of motivation and pride. “It’s a prize for all the hard work he has put in over his career and I’m happy for the record he achieved today,” Carlos Carbonero told FIFA.
“I think for Colombian football to have someone like Faryd is admirable, and not just for Colombian football but for the world of football. I think he is a great person and I am happy that he is Colombian.”
With one landmark smashed and re-set in stone with Mondragon’s name replacing Milla’s, the new record holder feels this side have the capabilities to exceed some national achievements too. “In terms of how we are playing and performing as a team we are also making history right now,” he declared.
He is not wrong, with their nine-goal haul in the group stages already making Brazil 2014 their most plentiful yet in front of goal, and feels they are riding the crest of a wave. “The fact that we finish this round with nine points gives us a huge emotional boost going forward.”
Comparing today’s team to that of the golden generation of the 1990′s, the globe-trotter of seven countries and eleven clubs during his career believes experience abroad makes this latest crop even better. “The advantage that we have now is that 95 per cent of our team plays in Europe and as a result they possess their own personal experience of that high level of football, as well as the fact that they are very mature,” he explained. “Back in World Cup ’94, 95 per cent of us used to play in Colombia, and the other five per cent were playing abroad, so now it’s the opposite.”
With a group stage to remember now behind them, Los Cafeteros now set out with the intention of plotting uncharted waters beyond their Round of 16 clash at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana. “Our next opponents are going to provide a very difficult challenge for us, so tomorrow we will have to start thinking about Uruguay.”
For one night at least though, Faryd Mondragon can bask in the title of oldest player the World Cup has ever seen.