Mondragon bridging Colombian history

Mondragon bridging Colombian history

Mondragon bridging Colombian history

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.


Del Bosque: Future of Spain team is safe

Del Bosque: Future of Spain team is safe

Del Bosque: Future of Spain team is safe

Spain arrived in Madrid on Tuesday and unlike four years ago, after a triumphant FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa, there were few fans waiting for them at the Adolfo Suarez Madrid-Barajas airport.

Vicente del Bosque’s side endured the country’s worst performance in a World Cup finals in Brazil.The defending champions bowed out of the competition after defeats to the Netherlands and Chile in Group B. They ended the tournament with a comfortable 3-0 win against Australia on Monday.

“We are not pleased with our overall performance at the World Cup,” Del Bosque said to Spanish newspaper El Mundo. “But it was important to finish with a win. Against Australia we handed a respectable performance, except in the opening 15 minutes of the game. But the efforts shown by my players against Australia is to be praised.”

Del Bosque insists La Roja’s golden generation must be applauded for what it has achieved. “Without considering the titles, for six years we have practically been first in FIFA’s (world) ranking,” Del Bosque said. “These players have done their work, they have behaved well..”

Del Bosque has yet to confirm if he will continue in charge of the World and European champions. The 63-year-old is under contract until Euro 2016 in France and is the country’s most successful coach.

“I have not set myself a specific date,” he said. “We will try to see what is the best solution for our football, without drama and using good judgement.”

With or without him, Del Bosque is aware a transition must begin to renovate the team in view of Euro 2016. “We are leaving with our head held high and now we have to allow others to step forward,” he said. “The future of the national team is safe, whoever the national coach is.”


Godin delights Uruguay, sends Italy home

Godin delights Uruguay, sends Italy home

Godin delights Uruguay, sends Italy home

A fortunate conversion from Diego Godin proved golden for Uruguay as they booked a spot in the FIFA World Cup™ Round of 16 with a late 1-0 victory over ten-man Italy in Natal.

The Atletico Madrid defender rose highest from a corner with nine minutes remaining on the clock to complete a remarkable turnaround for his country, who had been beaten in their opening fixture of the tournament but now progress to a meeting with the winners of Group C.

Italy held the safety net of knowing that a draw would be enough to reach the knockout stages but the Europeans nevertheless probed with regularity in the opening exchanges. The anxiety of La Celeste to register an early impact, meanwhile, led to the concession of numerous free-kicks – one of which Andrea Pirlo punted with power straight at goal to worry Fernando Muslera into diverting over.

The four-time world champions’ total control of the ball – more than 60 per cent possession during the first 20 minutes – ensured that chances were hugely limited for Uruguay. When Edinson Cavani did attempt to flick dangerously at the near post from Alvaro Pereira’s rolling delivery into the area, the Paris Saint-Germain goal-getter fired off-target under pressure.

Mario Balotelli collected a needless but deserved booking for a hefty challenge on Pereira. It could have been a costly yellow card too, ruling the enigmatic forward out of the Italians’ next fixture. By way of recompense, the 23-year-old surged into open space on 27 minutes, but his focus was out of kilter when unleashing a right-footed shot from long range and the opportunity passed.

Out of the relative impasse suddenly came a Uruguay chance. An intricate one-two between Nicolas Lodeiro and Luis Suarez at close quarters released the Liverpool talisman inside unprotected Italy territory, only for Gianluigi Buffon to rush from his goalline instantaneously to smother the No9 and prevent a genuine strike. The goalkeeper’s reactions were equally quick, and no less vital, in denying Lodeiro’s follow-up.

The frustration of the South Americans was perhaps most evident by Martin Caceres’ ambitious and futile effort to beat Buffon with a lobbed drive from midway inside his own half. When the two teams trotted back out for the second half, Balotelli was conspicuous by his absence, Marco Parolo replacing the AC Milan superstar. For his part, Oscar Tabarez swapped Maximiliano Pereira for Lodeiro in search of a breakthrough.

Stalemate reigned again until an action-packed minute just before the hour mark. Cristian Rodriguez penetrated along the left flank, fed Suarez and collected the return pass as he sprinted into the box; once there, however, the wide-man disappointingly sliced his left-footer far wide. The dynamic was altered further within seconds, when the referee brandished a red card in the direction of Claudio Marchisio for a high tackle on Egidio Arevalo.

Buffon served unnecessary notice of his unrivalled skills by pouncing low to his right when Suarez took control of a scramble at the edge of the Italy area and dispatched a strike towards the corner that looked a certain goal until the ‘keeper’s fine intervention. But the veteran stopper was helpless when a Gaston Ramirez set-piece sailed in and Godin forced over the line with a clumsy combination of shoulder and back to send La Celeste through and Italy home.


Varela strikes to save Portugal

Varela strikes to save Portugal

Varela strikes to save Portugal

Portugal have avoided early elimination from the FIFA World Cup™ in the most dramatic of circumstances after Varela’s 95th-minute goal secured a 2-2 draw with USA in Manaus. The Stars and Stripes had been on the verge of qualifying for the Round of 16 with a game to spare after coming from a goal down to lead 2-1, but were denied in the dying moments of a game that was exhilarating from the first minute to the last.

The US had benefited against Ghana from an early goal, but on this occasion they gifted that advantage to Portugal in the most calamitous of circumstances. The assist for Nani’s fifth-minute opener belonged, after all, to Geoff Cameron, who sliced an attempted clearance straight to the Portugal winger. Hardly able to believe his luck, Nani even had time to wait for Tim Howard to commit himself before side-footing confidently into the roof of the net.

It was just the kind of start that Jurgen Klinsmann must have been dreading, although he would have been hugely encouraged by his team’s response to falling behind. The Stars and Stripes went on to dominate the first half, with Clint Dempsey again leading the charge, curling just over from a free-kick on 13 minutes.

Dempsey was again in the thick of the action four minutes later, racing through on to a pass from Michael Bradley and smashing in a shot that Beto just managed to deflect behind with his legs. Bradley then went for goal himself shortly after, crashing in a ferocious left-foot drive that flashed a foot or so over the crossbar from 25 yards.

The quality of Portugal’s individual players ensured they always remained a threat, and Cristiano Ronaldo finally got a sight of goal after 36 minutes, though his long-range effort was just a little too straight to cause Howard undue difficulty. The US keeper was well and truly stretched in the final seconds of the half, though, when he pulled off a superb double save, tipping wide from Eder after he had diverted Nani’s initial effort on to the post.

If that save was spectacular, it was nothing compared to the near-miraculous stop that Ricardo Costa managed 11 minutes into the second half. A US goal appeared inevitable when a lightning break culminated in Bradley shooting from close range with Beto stranded, but Costa – positioned on the line – somehow contrived to divert the ball behind with his knee.

But the Americans would not be denied, and on 64 minutes they drew level with a goal straight out of the top drawer. Jermaine Jones was the man responsible, jinking inside Nani 25 yards from goal and curling in a magnificent right-foot shot that bent just inside the far post, with Beto left utterly helpless. It was a goal reminiscent of Lionel Messi’s winner for Argentina against Iran – only with Jones doing the damage on his right foot – and it was received just as ecstatically.

A draw was a positive result for the Americans, but a win would have been even better – and that was exactly what Dempsey looked to have secured nine minutes from time. And while this goal might not have been as spectacular as its predecessor, with the US No8 bundling Graham Zusi’s cross over the line with his midriff, its importance could not be overstated.

It was not, however, enough to secure victory – and a place in the last 16 – for the US. That’s because, with 95 minutes on the clock and the final seconds ticking down, substitute Varela saved Portugal with a last-gasp equaliser, bulleting a header into the top corner from Ronaldo’s inviting cross.

It was the final act of a pulsating match, which ended with both sides still with plenty to play for in their final Group G encounters.


Koreans crushed by impressive Algeria

Koreans crushed by impressive Algeria

Koreans crushed by impressive Algeria

Algeria have moved up to second in Group H with a convincing 4-2 win over Korea Republic at Porto Alegre’s Estadio Beira-Rio. The Taeguk Warriors were blown away in a first half that ended with their north African opponents three goals to the good, and not even a much-improved second-half showing could prevent Hong Myungbo’s team slumping to a damaging defeat.

There had been plenty of raised eyebrows pre-match at the decision by Algeria coach Vahid Halilhodzic to bench five of the players who had been unlucky to lose 2-1 to Belgium. That shuffling of Les Fennecs pack was quickly justified, though, as they established a firm stranglehold on the match.

The first half, in fact, was as one-sided as any seen at Brazil 2014 thus far, with the tone set after just two minutes when Sofiane Feghouli twisted away from his marker and fired narrowly over from ten yards. Algeria could easily have been 3-0 up inside the opening ten minutes, in fact, with Yacine Brahimi – one of the players promoted to the starting line-up – volleying over and Islam Slimani heading into the side-netting shortly after.

Slimani continued to threaten, though, and with 26 minutes played he scored the goal that he and his team so richly deserved, bustling through on to a long ball, holding off two Korean pursuers and dinking a volley over the advancing Jung Sungryoung. The Taeguk Warriors seemed helpless in the face of this Algerian onslaught and two minutes later their deficit was doubled, Rafik Halliche bulleting home Nabil Bentaleb’s corner with Jung caught in no man’s land.

The surprise scoreline did not flatter the north Africans and nor could Korea Republic complain when their opponents went three up seven minutes before half-time. The ease with which they found the net was a source of embarrassment though, with Abdelmoumene Djabou popping up unmarked 12 yards from goal to sweep home left-footed from Slimani’s clever pass.

Some harsh words were doubtless uttered at half-time in the South Korean dressing room and, whatever was said, it certainly seemed to have the desired impact. The Asians were certainly a different team altogether after the break and hauled themselves back into contention after just four minutes when Son Heungmin spun away from Madjid Bouguerra and smashed a left-foot shot through the legs of Rais Mbholi.

That goal made everyone wonder whether a comeback could be on, and it might have been had Mbholi not made a superb flying save to tip away Ki Sungyeung’s sweetly struck long-range effort on the hour-mark. Just a couple of minutes later, though, the Algerians moved out of sight when Brahimi worked a neat one-two with Slimani before nutmegging the hapless Jung.

Halilhodzic’s side duly became the first African side to score four times in a single FIFA World Cup match, although their lead was eroded with 18 minutes remaining when Lee Keunho crossed for Koo Jacheol to bundle the ball home from close range. But the South Koreans rarely looked like making it a nervy finale and will now go into their final Group H match needing to beat Belgium to have any chance of making the last 16.