Colombia's New Golden Generation Are on Their Way to the World Cup

Daniel Edwards@@DanEdwardsGoalFeatured ColumnistSeptember 6, 2013

BARCELONA, SPAIN - AUGUST 14:  Players of Colombia celebrate the goal during the International Friendly  match between Colombia and Serbia at the Mini Estadi Stadium on August 14, 2013 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)
Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

September 5, 1993 is a day etched into the memory of every single Colombian football fan. That evening the Cafeteros booked their place in the following year's US World Cup with an astonishing 5-0 demolition of continental powerhouses Argentina. 

The pacific nation, fired by a golden generation that included stars like Carlos Valderrama, Freddy Rincon, Adolfo 'El Tren' Valencia and Faustino Asprilla had arrived on the global stage. 

Fast forward 20 years and one day and a new formidable Colombia team is desperate to make amends for the ignominy and failure suffered since the passing of that side. Their victory may not have had the same pizzazz as that one two decades previously in Buenos Aires, but it may prove to be just as important a milestone.

The team directed by Argentine Jose Pekerman had to contend with a drenched pitch, courtesy of Friday's tropical downpour in Barranquilla just before kick-off, but dug deep to secure a 1-0 win over fellow South American qualifying high-flyers Ecuador. A single goal from James Rodriguez, a smartly taken rebound after Radamel Falcao's skidding shot had been deflected by goalkeeper Maximo Banguera, was enough to earn three crucial points.

As a result, qualification lies agonisingly close. Colombia currently share the top spot with Argentina in Conmebol, and if Uruguay fail to win on Friday against Peru, an automatic place is guaranteed. Should the Celeste triumph, a maximum of three points from the Cafetero's last three fixtures are all that would be needed.

The Tricolor had their chances as well, most notably a penalty skewed wide by Walter Ayovi. But in their first competitive clash since the tragic passing of Christian Benitez, the visitors could not quite break down an organised Colombia team and take anything away from the Estadio Metropolitano.

That last point is one of the most crucial for Pekerman's charges. Talent in this new 'golden generation', like in 1994, abounds. For El Pibe Valderrama, read James Rodriguez. Falcao, although he squandered at least two decent chances on Friday, is arguably ahead of former Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid sharpshooter Valencia, considered as he is one of the best strikers on the planet.

With Camilo Zuniga and Pablo Armero bombing down the flanks, meanwhile, the class of 2013 has a potency out wide to rival that given 20 years ago by the virtuoso talents of Rincon and Asprilla.

The key here, though, is discipline. Football has changed immeasurably even from the hyper-commercialised world it was in 1994, more than anywhere for South American teams. In the squad that Francisco Maturana took to the US that year, only five played outside Colombia; just two of those, Asprilla and Victor Aristizabal, representing European clubs. 

The squad called up by Pekerman for the latest round of qualifiers, in comparison, shows a complete turn-around. Five members of the team play in the Liga Postobon, two of whom are the reserve keepers (curiously enough one of whom, 42-year-old Peter Pan Faryd Mondragon, went to the World Cup back in 1994 also as a substitute). 

Without wishing to disparage the Colombian league, which after all has proved itself as a breeding ground for top talent, the football that Falcao, James and the rest of the Cafeteros play week in week out in Europe is at another level both in terms of skill levels and, most importantly, discipline and organisation.

The Colombia side of the 1990s at times represented an exhibition outfit, supremely talented when on the ball and in control, liable to self-destruct when things got tough. The new kids on the block, however, while not playing with the same freedom and joie de vivre as their predecessors, are a well-drilled bunch coached to perfection by Pekerman, one of the greatest tactical minds in South America.

A glance at Rodriguez's lightning-quick flicks, Armero's bombing runs down the left or the laid-back majesty of Macnelly Torres is proof enough that Colombia have not lost the effortless skill that made them so wonderful to watch in their previous glory days. But the addition of tactical and mental discipline to that potent raw material is one of the key reasons why the new golden generation can make a big impact next year at the Brazil World Cup.