Crazy Colombians in the World Cup

James Rodríguez controls the ball with the left side of his chest, pivoting his body as the ball drops, striking a magnificent volley with his left foot.  The ball arcs through the air, brushes the top of the keeper’s outstretched gloves, and hits the bottom of the goal post, bouncing up into the back netting with authority.  The sea of yellow erupts as the Colombian supporters jump out of their seats, spraying beer like a champagne shower.  The chanting becomes indistinguishable amongst whistling, cars honking, and screams of pure joy.  Colombia has waited 16 years to reach the World Cup and their team has been one of the most impressive so far.

Welcome to Brazil.  But the real World Cup madness has been in Colombia.

Welcome to Brazil. But the real World Cup madness has been in Colombia.

I attended the Brazil vs. Cameroon match in the Brazilian border town of Tabatinga.  The Brazilian fans there were only a fraction as passionate as the Colombians have been every match I’ve witnessed since.  After Colombia’s dismantling of Japan 4 to 1, the scene at Plaza Salistre in Bogota was nothing short of a fiesta.  A parade of musicians drummed their way for an hour through 4 stories of the mall, followed by a procession of everyone who had been watching the game on the giant screen.  Two professional dancers showed off their attributes, and their dance skills, in Carnival outfits.  The drums beat a cadence building up into shouts of ‘CO! LOM! BIA!!!’ before going wild and driving everyone to dance some more.

After the USA vs Germany match we had an impromptu match against Colombians half our age.  They've got skills.

After the USA vs Germany match we had an impromptu match against Colombians half our age. They’ve got skills.

After the Colombian defeat of Uruguay, which included James’ incredible goal, the fans rushed into the streets.  Traffic stopped as large buses blasted their horns in celebration, allowing the exuberant supporters to climb aboard and jump around, testing the buses shock systems.  People danced, sprayed one another with foam, and ran around high fiving like they had won the entire World Cup.  The riot police showed up to keep order but even they couldn’t help smiling and allowed people to take pictures sitting on top of their motor bikes.  At one point I wound up with a few mates leading the celebration with a bunch of young Santa Marta natives, jumping around and shouting traditional Spanish chants.

Post game street party.

Post game street party.

The Colombians have good reason to celebrate like the Apocalypse is coming and Earth be damned.  In the 1994 World Cup, Colombia had very high expectations as one of the top clubs.  Reportedly the drug cartels, who owned rival teams in Colombia, used death threats to get their own players onto the team.  The Colombians were playing under a lot of pressure and Andres Escobar accidently scored an own goal in the second match against the USA.  Six days after Colombia was knocked out of the group stage Escobar was shot 12 times outside of a Medellin nightclub, with the killer shouting ‘GOOOOL’ after each shot.  The national team never recovered and they failed to qualify for the last 4 World Cups.

Thus this World Cup holds more than the average emotion for Colombians.  While the majority of their passion has been infective and good natured, some few individuals have actually started acting like the Apocalypse is coming and Earth be damned.  After the first 3 to 0 victory over Greece, 9 people were killed in alcohol related fights.  A few days later inebriated fans hijacked a city bus, leading to the arrest of over 200 people and causing local governments to ban the selling of alcohol in public during matches in which Colombia participates.  It is such a shame that pride and passion turned into something ugly when mixed with too much alcohol.

Luckily the riot police weren't necessary the last few matches.

Luckily the riot police weren’t necessary the last few matches.

But if the last few matches have demonstrated anything it is that the Colombians don’t need alcohol to celebrate a long awaited win.  And their last match, a heartbreaking 2 to 1 defeat to Brazil, showed that they can be gracious in defeat.  People remained the in the Parque San Miguel well after the final whistle blew, cheering the performance of their team.  Pride and passion were evident in the many tear stained, yet uplifted, faces.

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