The return to the World Cup for a different Colombia

Words and Photos by Peter Karl, in Bogotá

Sixteen years it had been since they qualified for the World Cup. Sixteen years! For a country this crazy about futbol, that’s an eternity. And after the first 20 minutes vs. Chile, we never thought it’d end like this.

My night began like it did for most Colombians. Slink out of work early with a few coworkers, head to the nearest tienda for a carton of rum and book it to the public viewing at Parque 93. 

Before we even arrived, Arturo Vidal landed the first dagger. Hijuepuchas! Rang out from every storefront. And then another. And another. 3-0 down at halftime. That rum quickly became our numbing agent. Everyone was depressed. I couldn’t even get the kid with the bulldog to smile for a photo.

'Miracles happen,' I told a glum coworker, 'Think Istanbul.' … Sadly, he had no idea what I was talking about. And then it began. The first sparked hope. A Chilean red card turned it to belief. Then, Falcao converts the first penalty, grabs the ball, kisses the badge, and it was like a country of 45 million vs 10 Chileans. They didn’t stand a chance. Then came the equalizer. He never would have missed it, Radamel. It meant too much.

The final whistle sent bean bags soaring in the air, followed by foam spray, and corn flour bombs. It doesn’t snow in Bogota, but it sure looked like it.

The streets around the park soon became what looked a giant yellow, blue, and red Poznan dance. Even police joined in. This was a stark contrast to the Colombian youth that violently clashed with police in a national protest last month. It’s funny what football can do.

Through the goopy mix of foam, flour and beer on my face, it was clear to see Colombia deserves this. The country, like its football, has changed a lot in 16 years. They’re winning on and off the field. The FARC have submitted to peace talks and coca production is at an all time low. Though there is still much to do. Meanwhile, they’ve replaced Valderrama, Higuita, Escobar and Maturana with new icons like Falcao, James, Teofilo, and Pekerman. But they too have much to do.

Friday’s celebration was mostly a crowd of young college students; 6-7 year olds the last time Colombia went to the World Cup. They’ve grown up in a different Colombia, and now they can root for one too.

This piece’s words and photos belong to Peter Karl, the editor of The Third Kit on loan from Boston to Bogotá. He’s featured in one of the photos above, too. We’re guessing you can pick out the Peter Karl of the bunch. Posted by Eric.

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