International Soccer: Colombia's Dream Team
Colombian soccer has always had multiple players that have shined in the national and international spotlight. Their past and recent struggles to qualify for the FIFA World Cup does not justify the skillful players that Colombia has produced in the past 20 years.
They enjoyed their golden years during the 1990s when they qualified for all of three World Cups held during that decade. Soccer's greatest player, Pele, told the media before the 1994 World Cup held in the United States, that Colombia was going to come out on top and lift the trophy.
Since their disappointing performance in the '94 World Cup, Colombian soccer has gone through some tough years which have seen them unable to qualify for the World Cup since 1998. There have been many players that have shown the world what Colombian soccer has to offer and have taken their country to new heights.
Let's take a look at Colombia's dream team. The team is based on 4-3-3 formation.
Goalkeeper: Oscar Cordoba
Oscar Cordoba was one of the most successful goalkeepers in the history of Colombian soccer. He is the most capped goalie in Colombian international history, and for good reason.
He started in every game for the 1994 FIFA World Cup qualifiers and gave up only two goals. In Colombia's lone Copa America victory, he had a big part in shutting out every opponent the "cafeteros" faced throughout the whole tournament.
He's the only goalkeeper in Copa America history to have a clean sheet throughout the entire tournament.
Defender: Ivan Ramiro Cordoba
Ivan Ramiro Cordoba has proven that Colombia can produce some of the best soccer players. He has been a consistent force for Inter since his arrival in 1999. He is a vice-captain for the Italian squad and has also served as captain of the Colombian National Team.
He represented Colombia in the 1998 FIFA World Cup as well as in the 2001 Copa America in Colombia, where they came out as champions. He scored the only goal in the final against Mexico, which gave Colombia its first and only Copa America.
Defender: Andres Escobar
Andres Escobar is regarded by some as the best defender in the history of Colombian soccer. There's no telling where his career could have taken him if tragedy hadn't struck outside a bar in Colombia, where Escobar was shot and killed. It has been said that Escobar was shot because of the own goal he had scored against the United States in the 1994 World Cup.
Before the 1994 World Cup, Escobar was offered a contract to play for Italian side A.C. Milan. He would have been the first player in Colombian history to play professionally in Italy. He was the backbone of the national team for many years, and he is still regarded as one of the greatest Colombian soccer players in history, even with the short career he had.
Defender: Mario Alberto Yepes
Mario Alberto Yepes has been one of the most successful defenders that Colombia has ever produced. In his early years, he helped his hometown club, Deportivo Cali, reach the Copa Libertadores final in 1999 where they lost to Brazilian squad, Palmeiras, in penalty kicks. He also led Deprtivo Cali to the final of the Copa Merconorte that same year, where they lost to national rival Atletico Nacional.
Yepes was one of the top players in the 2001 Copa America where he helped Colombia win its first ever tournament. He also helped Colombia to a fourth place finish in the 2003 FIFA Confederations Cup. He has played for Argentine powerhouse River Plate, which he won two tournaments with, and is currently playing for Italian powerhouse A.C. Milan, which he helped lead to Serie A Championship.
Defender: Luis Fernando "Chonto" Herrera
Luis Fernando Herrera was part of the golden age of Colombia in the early part of the 1990s and was an integral part of the backfield. He played his whole career for his hometown team, Atletico Nacional, and helped them win their only Copa Libertadores in 1989. This Atletico Nacional team is considered by many to be the best team in Colombian soccer history as they had many future legends roaming the field.
Herrera played alongside Andres Escobar, and this backfield was practically unbreakable. They were the backbone that held the team together and led them to the most historic defeat in the country's history against Argentina, where they beat the hosts 5-0 in qualifying play. It is still, to this day, the single greatest moment for the Colombian National Team.
Midfielder: Carlos "El Pibe" Valderrama
It is clear that Colombia would have never reached the levels that they reached during the 1990s if it wasn't for Carlos Valderrama. He was twice voted as the best player in America, and his unselfish and precise style of play was the machine that kept the team running. He is the most capped player in Colombian history and in 2004, he was included in the FIFA 100, a list of the greatest living soccer players.
His blonde, puffy hair is recognized throughout the country and has been produced as a wig around the world. He was an MLS MVP in 1996 while playing for the Tampa Bay Mutiny, which he also helped lead to a Supporter's Shield. He has a statue in his honor in Santa Marta and he is by far the most recognized player in Colombia, and one of the most recognized around the world.
Midfielder: Leonel Alvarez
Leonel Alvarez is the epitome of discipline and dedication. He is not the most skilled soccer player with the ball, but his competitiveness and determination propelled him to be one of the best midfielders around the world. He never gave up on a play and it was nearly impossible to get by him as he controlled the defensive midfield.
Alvarez was part of the 1989 squad for Atletico Nacional that won the Copa Libertadores. He also helped Colombia reach its highest level alongside Valderrama, Valencia and Asprilla in the 1990s. His physical style of play was popular with Colombian fans who saw him as someone that was giving his all for the name on the back of the jersey, but even more for the logo on the chest.
Midfielder: Freddy Rincon
Freddy Rincon is another one of those players that helped Colombia reach unprecedented heights in the 1990s. He scored the goal that helped Colombia tie against eventual champions, Germany, in the group stage of the 1990 World Cup in Italy. He, along with Valderrama and Alvarez, was one of the most productive and feared midfielders in the world.
Rincon's level of play allowed him to play at the highest levels in Europe where he played for Italian squad Napoli as well as Spanish powerhouse Real Madrid. He was also an integral part of Colombia's amazing display of soccer against Argentina in qualifiers for the 1994 World Cup. Rincon scored a goal in that historic game.
Forward: Willington Ortiz
Willington Ortiz, along with Carlos Valderrama, are the two most recognized soccer players in Colombia. Ortiz was a feared striker that scored 12 times in 49 games for the Colombian National Team. He was a key part for Millonarios in helping them win the 1972 and '78 league titles and led them to four Copa Libertadores in eight years. However, his most successful time as a soccer player came when he was part of one of the most successful teams in Colombia, America de Cali.
While he was part of America from 1983 to 1988, he led "la mechita" to four league titles in 1983, '84, '85 and '86. He also helped America reach the finals of the Copa Libertadores in 1985, '86 and '87, but failed to win it. He is one of the most decorated soccer players in Colombia and is considered by many as the best Colombian striker ever.
Forward: Adolfo "El Tren" Valencia
Adolfo Valencia was one of the most feared strikers in the world when he was at his prime. He earned the nickname of "El Tren" (The Train) because of his combination of power and speed. It was hard for opposing players to take the ball away, and when he was sprinting, there was rarely anyone that could catch up to him. He was part of the great Colombian teams of the 1990s and formed a great duo with compatriot Faustino Asprilla.
His skills allowed him to play for some of the best teams in Europe including Bayern Munich of Germany and Atletico Madrid of Spain. When he was part of Bayern Munich, he scored 11 goals in 26 appearances and was the leading scorer for the German squad alongside Mehmet Scholl. He is Colombia's all-time top scorer in World Cups and also scored a goal in Colombia's 5-0 win against Argentina.
Forward: Faustino "El Tino" Asprilla
Faustino Asprilla may have been Colombia's best striker during their golden years. He was always one of the fastest players on the field and his ability to score was unlike any other. He is one of the most recognizable players in Colombia, and in 1996 he was named by FIFA as the sixth best player in the world. He is one of the most decorated Colombian players as he helped Italian side Parma win two UEFA Champions League titles in the 1994-95 season and the 1998-99 season.
Along with Valencia, Asprilla was an integral part of the attack when Colombia took on Argentina in the qualifiers. In the 5-0 game, Asprilla would score twice and was considered one of the best players of the game. He is considered by many as one of the best Colombian soccer players in history, even over fan-favorite Carlos Valderrama.
Honorable Mention: Radamel Falcao Garcia
Radamel Falcao Garcia has been making a name for himself during the last few years. He helped Argentine powerhouse River Plate win the 2008 league title. He also helped Portugese squad F.C. Porto to a league title, two Portugese Super Titles and a Europa League Title. In the Europa League Tournament, Falcao was the leading scorer in the tournament, scoring 17 goals while breaking Jurgen Klinsman's previous record of 15 goals.
He was traded to Atletico Madrid after his incredible career with Porto, getting off to a fast start in Spain. As far as the national team, Falcao has been capped 32 times and has scored 10 goals. He is on pace to become Colombia's all-time leading scorer in international play and will soon make the starting 11 of the dream team.