Colombia’s World Cup 2018 aspirations received a welcome boost during March’s international fixtures, with the pressure high after taking just four points from the first four games.
With up-and-coming young stars Sebastián Pérez, Óscar Murillo, Daniel Torres, Guillermo Celis and Marlos Moreno in the squad, the team took the full three points from a difficult away game in La Paz, Bolivia. In the Hernando Siles stadium, 3,637 metres above sea-level, Colombia put on an intelligent display, and with the offensive triangle of James Rodríguez, Carlos Bacca and Juan Guillermo Cuadrado proving to be dominant, they took a 2-0 lead into the halftime break. The lack of oxygen took its toll on the Colombian 11 in the second half, and Bolivia fought back to 2-2 but a late goal from Edwin Cardona, fresh on the pitch, sealed the hard fought victory.
Unbeaten qualification leader Ecuador was the opponent in Barranquilla five days later. With a masterful performance, the likes of which had not been seen since the World Cup, James ran Colombia’s southern neighbours ragged. The 1-0 halftime lead did not reflect the Colombian’s dominance but a goal from Pérez, followed by a second from Carlos Bacca, gave Colombia a much deserved win and put them back in the fight for qualification.
Los Cafeteros are now in fifth place, three points behind leader Uruguay and level with Chile, who sit in the final automatic qualifying spot for the World Cup. The next qualification game will be in September at home against bottom of the table Venezuela.
Liga Águila protests
With 12 out of 20 rounds played, the surprise league leaders are Rionegro Águilas, one point ahead of Junior, Millonarios and Atlético Nacional. There is a fierce battle going on behind them, with 10 teams competing for a top eight qualification spot that would take them to the quarter finals.
The success of Rionegro Águilas is certainly remarkable, as was the fine performance from Millonarios in the clásico, beating title favourite Atlético Nacional 2-1 in El Campín.
But what has everybody talking this month is the change of the playing times, imposed in order to contribute to the country’s electricity saving initiatives. Normally games are scheduled to run between 2pm and 10pm, but they are now running between 10am and 6pm to avoid the use of energy-draining floodlights during the games.
The federation ordered the club presidents to vote on the idea, and the new schedule was approved with 35 out of 36 votes in favour. However, the initiative antagonised both players and managers, because the extreme heat in many stadiums at that time could pose serious health risks.
The club presidents’ involvement in the decision was not enough; the players union, Acolfutpro, was furious that no players, doctors or managers had been consulted. On April 2 and 3, when the new schedule was introduced, all teams carried banners onto the pitch carrying the slogan, “The players are in favour of saving energy, but not at the cost of our health”.
The banners weren’t shown by the match broadcasters, Winsports and RCN, who avoided filming the banner, sparking a social media debate about so-called ‘Winsports and RCN censorship’.
The row took on a whole new dimension in round 12, with players protesting by sitting down on the pitch immediately after kick off in every game, and then standing up to play. Once again the broadcasters chose not to show the protest until the final game and filled the time with shots of fans in the stands and the substitutes.
By Freek Huigen