BOGOTA – Boasting superstars James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao, Colombia is currently one of the world’s premier soccer nations.
But it once endured a lengthy gap between World Cup appearances, failing to qualify for six consecutive tournaments from 1966 to 1986.
Colombia’s first adventure at soccer’s premier event in 1962 in Chile had a touch of the bittersweet, as the South American country played the Soviet Union to a memorable 4-4 draw before being eliminated from the tournament by Yugoslavia in a 5-0 group-stage rout.
Fans of La Tricolor were hoping for a fresh opportunity soon, but circumstances conspired against the national team for nearly three decades.
Colombia came up empty in six consecutive World Cup qualifying campaigns, suffering both humiliating routs and agonizingly close losses in the process.
Adding to the woes of the soccer-crazy Andean nation, Colombia’s hopes of hosting the 1986 World Cup – the Mexico-based tournament where Argentine great Diego Maradona achieved soccer immortality – came to naught when the government of the time said the country could not meet FIFA’s financial demands.
Eventually, however, a new generation of talented young players led by visionary head coach Francisco Maturana came on the scene and provided hope for a change in the country’s fortunes.
First making a big splash with a third-place finish at the 1987 Copa America, that team began paving the way for Colombia’s return to the World Cup.
Finally, Colombia’s long wait was over when the team booked its place at the 1990 tournament in Italy with a 1-0 win on aggregate over Israel in an inter-confederation playoff.
Less than eight months later, Colombia defeated the United Arab Emirates 2-0 at Renato Dall’Ara Stadium in Bologna in what was its first World Cup match in 28 years.